Hello, and welcome to the first in my third series of Advocates For Play. A series of blog interviews with play promoters around the world...
Introducing Jade Evans, mother to George and founder of The Rooted Family. Thank you for sharing an insight into your perspective on play.
Please introduce yourself, and your family.
Hi, I’m Jade, my husband is Adam and my little boy is George. We live in North Wales, in a small village with a beautiful woodland next to our home. We have a dog called Luna and we love being outdoors, always with a picnic in the rucksack. We love to live a simple and slow life and find the extraordinary in the everyday moments.
We home educate, so juggle work commitments around our family. As a lifestyle choice it has brought us the opportunity to slow down and realise what is important. Ultimately, for us, it is giving my son the long, slow childhood he deserves, full of nature, self directed learning, following his natural curiosities, and quality time together as a family.
Can you share some of your own experiences of play as a child? Do you have an earliest play memory, or a story to share about play that was particularly meaningful?
One experience I remembered recently was my earliest play memory. I was 3 years old. I was singing twinkle twinkle little star while I was hiding inside a little wendy house play den, just singing to myself. I was smiling. I was immersed in hiding in this space and enjoying the feeling of simply being a child, full of the joys of life and hiding away in my own little safe, private space.
Another moment that comes to mind was in my nanas back garden as a young child under 5. I believe this was my most vivid memory. I remember playing outside in the garden with my cousin James and we were playing witches. I was chopping up dandelions with a table knife, pretending they were worms, and we were making a witches brew with all kinds of rotten things in. I was wearing those plastic dress up shoes and prancing around in them, enjoying the sound I made pretending I was a lady walking around in high heels. I remember wandering around on the grass, looking up at the trees, listening to the birds and feeling really connected to them. A really beautiful feeling and most likely where my love of nature came from.
As an older child of 7 or 8 I remember playing in my garden with my 2 brothers, pretending we were digging a hole to Australia, running around catching bad guys and saving the world, exploring newts under rocks in the garden, hiding in the big conifer trees, laughing and having no concept of time.
When I went to high school I remember it all changed. I really struggled with maths. I remember putting pieces of paper on my wardrobe with sellotape and pretending I was the maths teacher, Miss Robinson, and I would go through the sums from that day, writing on my paper like she would write on the board and I would impersonate her. I didn’t really realise it was play until recently, when I realised it was how I was processing what I had taken in that day.
Can you tell us about how you came to be an advocate for play? In what capacity does play feature in your life?
Becoming a Mother was the greatest gift and experience I could ask for in this life. It was when my son was born in 2014 that everything changed.
Before motherhood I worked constantly as I thought that was what was expected of me and that was what it meant to be successful. I followed my natural urges in my career and had started my own business as a photographer which I loved at the time.
When I had my son it was the height of summer, and at the time we were living at a beautiful little cottage in the country. We had a big garden and chickens. My son was crying a lot over the first few weeks. I would take him out into the garden and I noticed how it just seemed to calm him. So I would sit in the garden and put him on a blanket on the grass and I realised how everything seemed to slow down as I just sat there and soaked him and the environment in. I was noticing things I hadn’t really noticed before.
Also, at the time one of our chickens, Beatrice, had become broody and she had hidden her eggs (which we didn’t realise) and just after George was born, the eggs hatched and alongside my little baby I watched Beatrice care for her babies. She would snuggle them cosy under her wing. She would show them how to dust themselves in the dry soil in the sun and she would show them how to peck up the food. I felt really connected to that time because it was like nature was showing me, teaching me how babies and children imitate their parents.
Out in the garden one day it was so quiet and the leaves were rustling and I heard the words “home educate George”. I thought that was strange as I didn’t know what that was, but I thought well I have loads of time to look into that. Being out in nature became a daily occurrence and I would go out everyday and have George in a sling or in the pram and we would walk the country lanes and be out in the garden. As he got bigger he loved touching everything, stones, plants, leaves, worms, puddles were his favourite. Being outside everyday was amazing. I couldn’t believe how much I’d missed as a child. I realised that eventually this would have to end when nursery, pre school and school came around. Then I remembered the words I had heard and I thought to myself, what if he didn’t go? What if he could play all day long? What if we could spend all day outside?
I started to learn more about how children develop and I kept a notebook of the things George was interested in and how he explored the world and I have to say I was absolutely fascinated. I started to become quite against early academics and children sitting inside most of the day. I started to have a bit of an awakening to the world, into things I did not know about before. A fire burned inside me and I started to see the world how it really was. I saw how play and movement were taken away and how children were often restricted in their movements. I had really followed George's own interests and hadn’t ever stopped him from climbing or anything. I’d always stay calm and look at his body language. I started to realise that with trust and encouragement kids can do so much! Yet around me I noticed very different situations. Play is a huge part of our everyday lives and one of the biggest reasons I did not send George to school.
At 6.5 years old George spends the majority of his day playing. Whether with other children, on his own, in different places, in different ways etc. I am very protective of play and as a result of my own experiences and findings I was inspired to set up The Rooted Family and work as a parent coach supporting families with understanding child development, the inner work of the parent and the language of childhood - play. It was my understanding of the world and play that inspired me to do this in 2019 when lockdown started.
How would you describe your play philosophy?
I have come to realise that life is all about play. I live a play - full life, and work on this everyday to become intrinsically motivated and follow natural curiosities. Growing up in a mainstream education I realise that play was only really seen as a distraction and not taken seriously as a part of life. Being playful doesn’t end with childhood, it continues with us. We may never be a child again but are habitual beings therefore play can be a habit that we grow with.
Play everyday, create, be outside, imagine, there are no limits.
I have realised how important it is to set habits for life. We have a strong rhythm at home.
Play is a big part of our lives. When my son gets up in the morning and has been for a family cuddle he is off playing, imagining, creating, discovering, exploring, being outside in nature running, jumping, chucking rocks, hanging upside down, building things, knocking things down, seeing things in a new way, telling stories, making up songs, asking questions, just playing all the time. Play is hard to pin down into one sentence - but it comes into so many different facets of life. We can do life playfully, we can live in flow by simply being human beings and having this incredible human experience. Life is about play.
Who or what has influenced your perspective on play? Are there any books, blogs, Instagram accounts that you would recommend?
In 2018 I was introduced to a home education group held at an adventure park. This completely inspired me and I learned about what the adventure playground was all about. This playground had a main wooden structure which was huge, with many levels, and then around this structure were loose parts. It wasn’t perfect, it was rustic and my childhood self just smiled inside and did a skip. It was the kind of place children dream about. There were old tyres and doors, haybales, old mattresses, old pallets etc The children could make it their own. I was introduced to the concept of the playworker. Lovely people who have a deep understanding of play and child development, don’t get in the way but support and encourage the child when needed. One of the guys who is there as a playworker regularly got talking with me and he saw my interest and my change of career and invited me to a talk at the local university that he was attending and my eyes were opened up even more to understanding play, the importance of it for our lives and childhood.
I’d recommend looking into The Adventure Playground concept. I love the Reggio Emelia approach, the Forest School approach and the Waldorf approach. Each of these, along with my own experiences, have inspired me so much in my understanding.
How do you facilitate child led, open ended play within your home or setting?
The environment matters.
Not interrupting play unless really needed.
Be open to what play really is. Often we can have a fixed idea of what play should look like, how long our kids should play, for what play shouldn’t look like.
Remember play is something that is intrinsically motivated and self chosen.
Embrace all forms of play. It comes in different forms, it doesn’t always look pleasing to the eye, it’s often messy and chaotic but there is order within.
Keeping the environment clutter free in your main space as much as possible.
I don’t interrupt George when he is playing unless I really need to.
I encourage him by providing a range of materials that are open ended and from nature to explore and grow his own worlds.
Can you share a top tip for encouraging children to play independently?
Find something you are interested in yourself. For example, I settle myself into some knitting in the rocking chair and my son will happily play in the room or nearby, feeling safe in my presence. Now he’s older he will go into a different room but still likes to be close in the same room.
If outside I might be hanging out the washing, my son might be happily playing with the car in the sand pit.
What type of play are the children in your home or setting really engaged in right now?
Also rough and tumble play.
Lego has been something that holds my sons attention for a long time. When he was younger we would simply offer wooden blocks and little people.
Water - a plastic tub of water with a towel underneath and little animals or people (do not leave little children unattended of course!)
If you had to pick just three toys or play resources to encourage child led, open ended play, what would you choose?
Nature - sticks,stones, natural treasures, water, sand etc
And silks/material sorry couldn’t pick 3!
If you could make one wish for your child, or for the children of today, what would it be?
My wish is for children to have the childhood they all deserve. One that is full of play, one where joy is important. Where being outside is encouraged, where they can sink more deeply into themselves, flow and be who they truly came here to be. Ultimately space, time and freedom to be a child.
You can find out more about The Rooted Family by visiting Jade's website here.
If you would like to contribute to my next Advocates For Play Series, please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.