A child at play is a child at work

When the girls arrive for the weekend, everything begins with unloading bags of dirty clothes from the pick-up which get dumped in the living room until they can go into the washing machine the next day. Along with the bags of clothes are camera bags, laptop bags, folders, papers and every imaginable thing that college girls normally carry around. Sometimes, Sam and Alex bring home unfinished projects and even projects that have already been graded.

These projects that have already been graded are often left lying around and forgotten. For instance, one time I was looking for my iPhone charger in Sam’s bedroom and found a stack of large-format black and white photos instead. Beautiful portraits of her friends that she submitted in some class. My jaw fell. Literally. I had no idea she could already take such good portraits. At home and during parties at home, the only portraits she takes are of people with their mouths half open and a spoon and fork suspended in mid-air. She waits until people get into a not-so-flattering pose then click! click! click!

In short, Speedy and I get to see the girls’ “real” work when we go through the tedious process of sorting out the junk from the non-junk. Two days ago, we made another discovery. Alex, who’s taking up Technical Theater and who thinks she’s not so adept with a dSLR, has a class in photography this term. She got the spare camera, an EOS40D, from her father and had been using it for weeks. We had no idea if she had managed to work out the controls until we saw a stack of contact prints lying on a bar stool. I know it’s hers and I know it had already been graded because there was a note from the teacher attached to the prints that says please don’t forget to put your name next time — good thing I recognized your face in the photos so I know who the photographer is.

So, now I get to the part why the title of this post is “A child at play is a child at work”, a phrase I first heard from the girls’ pre-school teacher. We play a lot with cameras and food in this house. Not intentionally wasteful play but experimental play. Like that night the power went out and we made light paintings. One time, we had lunch in a restaurant in Tagaytay, I had a column to submit, I wrote the column right there and took advantage of the free wifi to send it to my editor. Sam entertained herself by dropping used lemon wedges into a glass of water and taking photos of the water as it splashed. Amusing little games, really. But look what lessons were learned from those amusing little games.

These are from Alex’s contact prints which I scanned earlier.


Light paintings. I especially like the first image of someone shampooing his or her hair.


And splashes of water. I don’t know what Alex used to tint the water red. I hope that’s not cranberry juice because that would have been hell to clean.

I’m sure that these are related to lessons in long exposure (Sam did a similar project last year) because that’s how you make light paintings and capture splashes of water — with long exposure settings.

Seriously, no one is too old for creative play. Remember Sam’s tie-dyed shirts? And you know where else Sam does her creative play? In the kitchen. Last Sunday when Buddy and Laura were here, while we were all unwinding after dinner, she was in the kitchen baking a cake.


And look at that.

So, what’s my point? Let me relate one last story. When Sam was about four years old, I left her in the living room watching cartoons to prepare dinner. I could see her from the kitchen. After a few minutes, as I was mashing garlic, I saw her holding a building block and she appeared to be mashing something with it too. I went to see what it was and she was mashing chocolate on a cushion. She said she was cooking too. I had to clean up the mashed chocolate and told her to come into the kitchen instead. I gave her a small bowl and she put things in there, mixing and mashing, as I cooked. When I asked her what she was cooking, she said she was making “celery ng daga.” Literally, rat’s celery, whatever that meant. And she still remembers that incident. She laughs whenever someone brings it up.

When children play, their activities sometimes don’t make sense to adults. And adults often lose their temper when, in the process of playing, children make a mess. But, really, unless they’re in danger of hurting themselves or others, leave them be, and give them the time and space to create and learn. That’s the best encouragement that anyone can give them. Even when they’re older, that time and space for creative effort will give them so much confidence boost to create better and more.