The space between Chaos & Control

This year one of my personal inquiry themes has been exploring the space between chaos & control. This is relevant to my own personal life and also my practice.

I have always been a relatively organised person (thanks to my Mum who is the organisational queen), but this year juggling multiple jobs (in many locations) and two living spaces has been a real challenge.

I found myself overwhelmed at the amount of stuff (chaos) in my life. My car overflowing as I have driven from Heathcote Junction, to Whittlesea, to North Melbourne, to Kinglake, to Wallan, to Preston and more recently to Vermont, Ferntree Gully, Boronia and Epping for work. My car is always full of art supplies, clothes (shipping back and fourth between two houses), a bike and a esky…once someone described my car as a kids school bag…that is was full of scrunched up bits of paper, apple cores shoved down beside my door and lots of stuff.

I arrive at the sessions I facilitate/support with lots of stuff … whether it’s art materials, ideas or food. At times this can be very overwhelming for participants and myself. I have received reoccurring feedback during my creative art therapy supervision that I offer people too many options.

This is how I feel in my own life. I also offer myself too many options and struggle to make a choice which inhibits me to start.

The other stream of my theme about chaos & control relates to safety and establishing boundaries. I have found this relates significantly to my work with children.

How do I allow free-forming, spontaneous, imaginative co-inquiry and creation that often becomes chaotic while also establishing boundaries?

This year I was the Play Helper for the MyTime Kinglake, a support program for parents of children with disabilities. While the parents met, I spent time with the children and their siblings at the Kinglake Library. Because this was a public space I was always mindful of providing activities which were not too messy and that could be contained.

For my first session back in March, I prepared a sensory tray activity: coloured rice, lentils, torn paper, rocks, pom-poms, wool, blocks, sticks, feathers and toys.

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The children scooped and poured all the materials from container to container to their heart’s content. They were engaged straight away. I narrated their actions and reinforced their play. They had few words but many other ways to communicate – gesture, vocal sound, facial expression and laughter. I was mindful of the public space getting messier and messier. Bits of rice were making their way onto the floor of the library. I was feeling very self-conscious as the library staff seemed to be observing the play with curiosity. I was the new PlayHelper employed to help the children to engage for 2 hours. At one point, a child lifted up a huge container of rice, looked at me and tipped it on the floor. Without thinking I said “No!” to which he responded with dissonance and frustration. He just wanted to play and I was trying to control the play (something I think I may have developed from being an ABA therapist prior to this role).

A series of events unfolded after this which eventually lead to a room of crying children and a very stressed out play helper. Despite this the library staff, the parents and the MyTime Facilitator were thrilled that the children had been engaged for most of the session. There was no problem with the mess all over the floor, a bit of vacuuming fixed this!

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Rice Everywhere! (doesn’t look too drastic in hindsight)

Over the last nine months the relationship between the children and me has grown. We have both learnt to trust each other through trying things out, testing boundaries and always being spontaneous. As I arrive each session, I enter into the unknown. There is no indication who will turn up, how they will be feeling or how they will respond to the materials or activities. I have learnt to respond to how we are all feeling on a given day, adapting activities or putting them aside to be in the moment – throwing teddies across the room, hiding behind book shelves, playing on the play equipment outside, turning hand washing into a bubble making activity….

Last Friday was my final session. I had a few things planned such as play dough play and printmaking but the children were not very interested. It had been very hot the night before and the children seemed tiered and a little stir crazy and so was I was.

I grabbed a big roll of paper out of my car, paint and brushes. We put on our hats and went outside.

I lay out two big bits of paper and we painted it with brushes. The child who had initially poured the rice on the floor 9 months ago, looked at me and motioned to put his hands in the paint. As he had done before he was checking with me to see if it was okay, this time I said “Yes! Go for it”. He smeared his hands with paint and then dragged his hands across the paper. I moved fast around the sheets, offering glitter, refilling paint trays, filling up empty juice bottles with paint & water which was the squeezed with delight onto the paper. Not only had the children become more engaged over the last nine months I had also become more spontaneous and playful. I felt more confident in my ability to hold the space for them. When things started getting chaotic and in moments when children tried to put paint brushes in their mouths I was able to gently intervene. The other major shift in the way we related was that the children were using words with me (when we first met they used few words to communicate).

When the children had enough (I could have gone on painting all day) they were covered from head to toe in paint…hands, shoes, shirts, shorts. Lucky their Mum had provided a change of clothes. While changing, I cleaned paint from bellies, under arms and off faces. It felt so liberating to have let them get really immersed in the activity without restrictions

It has been an amazing journey for me exploring the space between chaos & control in this work and also in other parts of my practice. The image of the artwork we co-created is now the screen saver on my phone and I have shared it again and again over the last week. It brings me such a sense of joy. Now I want to share it with you.

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