Looking back on a year of play in the pandemic - Part 1, Spring 2020

As we experience our second spring in the Covid-19 pandemic, over the course of the next four blog posts, Yinka Olusoga reflects on a year of her children’s play and leisure, in and out of lockdown.

Since being a teenager, I have enjoyed photographing everyday moments and things I see that interest me in my day - an urge made much easier to indulge thanks to the invention of the smartphone. In pre-pandemic times, as well as snaps of my family, I would chronicle my journeys to and from work, my walks across campus, and my ventures to new places as I travelled for work and leisure. This time last year, however, we were in our second month of national lockdown and, like many others, my family was adjusting to working and learning from home.

The sudden shrinkage of our world to the confines of our house, garden and immediate neighbourhood brought with it a sharper focus on smaller happenings for me to photograph and re-photograph. I captured the slow unfurling of spring and then summer in the garden, day-to-day as it happened, rather than from weekend-to-weekend as is usually the case. I also photographed my children adjusting to the opportunities and constraints of playing during a pandemic and, using iPads, they took their own photographs and shot short films of their play activities as well. In both cases, the slower, less interrupted chance to observe made me notice details I would otherwise have overlooked and gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of unfolding developments.

Now, a year later, spring is unfurling once more and we are emerging from another national lockdown. Recently, prompted by the Play Observatory survey, my son and I have been looking back together at our photographic record of a year of play, growth and change in the pandemic. This blog reflects on how my children have played and spent their leisure time and considers what changed because of the pandemic restrictions, and what stayed the same.

Spring 2020

Looking back to March 2020, things are not off to the greatest start. I’m ill and so is my husband. The children are playing, but also bickering and falling out. A lot. On the 29th March however, they appear downstairs having written and signed an official peace treaty between them. Thankfully, the treaty holds and by early April, my then 9 and 12 year old are playing together with a Disney chessboard a friend gave us a few years earlier. They are finding and watching YouTube videos to try to learn how to play the game. Two days later we see them drawing on their experience of digital gaming to invent their own version of the game. They call it ‘Anarchy Chess’ and in their game chess pieces have multiple lives, and the game takes the players through levels on a quest.

The game of Anarchy Chess is being invented, March 2020

A couple of weeks later, it's all about chalk play, but not the rainbows that I see on social media in my children’s case. My son scribes written warnings such as ‘Keep Out’ and draws a ghost, a skull and crossbones and a bottle of poison. His sister joins him and together they draw a Minecraft creeper. When I ask them, they tell me these designs are to keep people from the door. This play lets me know for the first time just how anxious my son is when deliveries arrive at our door. We talk about key workers, how much we rely on them and about the social distancing measures we take when bringing in our deliveries. It’s not a conversation I would have thought to have with him without the prompt of seeing this play.

A chalk ghost being drawn on the driveway to scare off visitors, April 2020

Do you have memories of children’s play and leisure in spring 2020? Share them with us and play your part in the Play Observatory by responding to our online survey.

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