Play is a "state of being" that transcends all places, cultures, ages and time, and can take place anywhere. Working at schools or with large groups of young people, Eleanor plays on soft grass or on large soft mats spread out inside or outside. Eleanor sits or crawls around on the mats initially in a soft, inviting position without angles, which could indicate tension or aggression. The following are guidelines for her movements:
Physical and Emotional Safety
The number one concern is the emotional and physical safety of the child. It is important that the adult is aware at all times of what is happening in and around the play area. For safety reasons, adults initially always play on their knees or sitting, rather than standing.
Respecting a Child's "Space"
Safe-touch: A child has control of his/her body at all times. The adult must pay attention that the child’s body and place in space are always respected. For example, when first playing with a child, if a child touches the adult’s hand with their hand, they are saying they feel safe with the adult touching their hand in play at this time, and so forth. At any moment when the child wants to stop playing they know they just have to step off the mats.
Engaging with a Child's Unique Style of Play
Each child is unique and as they experience innate play over time, each child shows the adult what kind of touch feels safe. As the child uses different parts of their body to engage with the adult – for example, first their hands, then their back and feet and head -- the adult learns more and more what kind of play feels safe to them.
Understanding the Sequence of Signals of Play
According to play research, in all of nature, including animals, the same sequence of events initiates play. First, is the play "look" and then, when there is enough safety, hands and feet may touch. The head is usually the last place that is touched. Eleanor initially offers to play with the child by offering her hands and feet to them.
Reframing a Child's Aggression
When children are aggressive in their play, their aggression can be transformed when the adult doesn’t respond back in the same way. Instead you can respond to them with gentle touch. For example, if the child attempts to hit, you gently place my hand on their closed fist and play with the fist and with gentle loving touch redirect the punch. This firm playful response creates a biochemical change in their nervous system and begins to reprogram their aggressive response mechanism.
Guidelines Eleanor Uses in Innate Play
Eleanor often plays with the same child numerous times over the years as she continues to learn with them how to play effectively. The repeated innate play sessions enable both Eleanor and the children to develop in how they play.