Helen Dodd’s young sons invented some new games this summer. “We had a paddling pool in the garden and they filled it with colored balls and sat on and squashed the red ones,” she said. “Then they took some chalk and drew red virus shapes on the pavement outside my house, in a kind of hopscotch. They did it in the street so other kids could join in playing Splat the Virus.” They also played a game in which Flynn, 5, would climb on eight-year-old Corben’s back and cling on like a bug till Corben shouted “antibiotics”, at which point the younger boy would fall off defeated.
The coronavirus has become a new monster.
Since the start of the first lockdown, children have changed their play to try to make sense of their bewildering and sometimes scary new world. Dodd, a professor of child psychology at Reading University, has watched new invented games not only in her own home, but all around. “And I don’t mean just reflected in the children’s rainbow drawings in the windows of family homes,” she said.
Children have taped dolls’ mouths shut to mimic masks and have socially distanced their Playmobil families. A survey of parents during lockdown found examples of children scrubbing dolls’ hands and building hospitals out of Lego. One child having a tea party for eight toys turned two “friends” away because of the rule of six.
Children have changed their play to try to make sense of their bewildering and sometimes scary new world. The coronavirus has become a new monster.
“It is fascinating,” Dodd said. “Of course many children are playing more online, even playing games like hide and seek with their grandparents via video link — but also they are inventing these unique games that are reflecting the pandemic. We might think we are protecting them from it but there they are socially distancing their Barbies and teddies and making hand sanitizer. We are not protecting them at all. It is all around them and they are using it in their play.”
Dodd, along with academics across the world, has started collecting the new ways children play for an archive at the Museum of English Rural Life so that future generations can see how they are “processing this unique moment in history”. After she asked for examples of #coronaplay on social media, they flooded in.
Some were about the use of space, including a picture from Australia of an empty road and a child riding their scooter down the middle of it. In the UK in the spring, children initially tried to recreate their familiar routines using toys. One mother sent in photos of her two-year-old boy and four-year-old girl as they tried to cope with canceled activities. “On a Sunday morning they usually have swimming lessons and then go for a drive-through Costa,” wrote the mother. “For the first few Sundays the children ‘swam’ instead in the living room lying on chairs to replicate what they do in the pool. Then they would set up a car, load their toys in and pretend to go to Costa. I supplied babyccinos and chocolate tiffin.”
Dodd said: “This was so clever. Parents were advised by experts to keep to routines in the pandemic to soothe kids’ anxieties, but these kids knew themselves what they needed.”
More worryingly, young children started drawing faces that lacked the typical smiley mouth, but always included a mask.
Teachers, too, have watched as children have invented new chasing games. Claire Evans, a deputy head teacher at Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham, says her own boys, aged eight and nine, invented “coronavirus tag”, ingeniously responding to demands that people keep their distance. “When they first went back to school in June they told me they were playing socially distanced tag because they knew they could not touch each other,” Evans said. “The idea was if they got within one meter of someone they were tagged. No teacher told them that, they came up with it by themselves. It’s a bit like the way they tell their grandad to ‘Get back, Grandad’ when he tries to hug them. We have just seen our children adapt,” she said. “It’s quite brilliant.”
In the more dangerous “coronavirus tag” being played in some parts of America, pupils tag someone by coughing on them — though children can stay safe by wearing a “hazmat suit” (a hood).
Worryingly, young children started drawing faces that lacked the typical smiley mouth, but always included a mask.
Families and teachers also sent Dodd descriptions of “doctors and nurses” games. These echo attempts to master trauma in war, such as in Syria, where children acted out roles of using toy or makeshift guns against an imaginary enemy.
One mother described how her daughters, aged four and six, had created a “medicine for the virus from things found in the garden. They put on dressing-up clothes — capes and masks — to protect them from ‘all the chemicals’ and spent a long time mixing the medicine. Then they tested it out on their toys to see if it would work, adjusted it a bit more, and then made the rest of the family take it.”
Nihara Krause, a psychologist, says parents can learn a lot about their children’s worries by watching such games. In situations where children are playing doctors and nurses, especially if they are obsessively repeating the game, and maybe even telling a toy patient or a playmate, ‘I’m sorry, you are going to die,’ Krause suggests gently positing an alternative outcome. Parents can say, let’s play a different ending. They could say good things are going to happen soon. One will be that you could have a vaccination that will help you. Then the child might play the game again and tell the patient, ‘It’s OK, you will be fine.’”
Year six pupils at Anderton Park in Birmingham have been self-isolating for two weeks after one tested positive. They are learning online using Microsoft Teams — and, according to Evans, hijacked the software one morning to play. She said: “There is a chat function in Teams the staff have been using to have meetings. We found out last week the kids had set up their own times to use it between lessons. When we found out, I said, ‘Let’s not stop it. Let’s just monitor it in case they were being unkind to each other.’ And we found they were using it to have a kind of little chat like they would have in the playground.”
Dodd said: “We say play has therapeutic value, which allows kids to make sense of the world around them. As long as they are playing, parents should not be too worried. It is children who do not play and withdraw we should be anxious about. One of the things I am interested in is which of these games will endure when the pandemic has long gone. When I was a child we played Ring a Ring o’ Roses all the time, but had no idea where it started. Will children be playing coronatag in 100 years’ time and have no idea how it began?”
The remarkable story of a Jewish boy who killed a Nazi guard and escaped the Holocaust aged 13 to start a new life in Britain has been revealed in a book by his son.
In 1940, Henry Carr used a knife to take the life of a guard in the Lodz ghetto in Poland, fearing that his brother was about to be shot for stealing food. Henry, born Chaim Herzhman, escaped Poland in a German troop train then fled Germany in a jeep. He made it to the Spanish border before he was arrested. A British diplomat vouched for him and helped him reach Gibraltar and safety. He went on to fight for the Royal Berkshire Regiment during its advance on Berlin in 1945, and settled in Britain after the war but kept his wartime heroism a secret until he died in 1995.
His son, John, has told his father’s extraordinary story in a book, Escape from the Ghetto. Mr Carr, a former Labour politician who now works as an Internet security expert, wrote the book to better understand his father, with whom he had a difficult relationship. He said: “My dad has one hell of a story. Most of the time he was very much flying by the seat of his pants, he showed brilliant resourcefulness.”
Mr Carr was 11 or 12 when he found out about his father’s Jewish heritage but said it was not until decades later that Henry’s wartime story and heroics were unearthed. He spent more than 30 years researching his father’s life, beginning when the two sat down to record Henry’s memories on tape.
Henry Carr settled in Britain after the war but kept his wartime heroism a secret until he died in 1995.
“On a personal level I wanted to get to know my dad better because we had a terrible relationship when I was growing up,” Mr Carr said. “I also wanted to tell my children who their grandfather was and show them what he did. In a broader sense I think it’s vitally important that what happened in the 1930s and 1940s is not forgotten. We need to remember or else it may happen again. As the child of a survivor I felt some responsibility to tell my dad’s story.”
In the book’s epilogue, Mr Carr says he was frightened of his “unpredictable” and “irascible” father who was “quick to strike with his hand or a belt”. Escape from the Ghetto begins with an account from Henry’s cousin, Heniek, who saw him kill the guard. His brother, Srulek, had got trapped on barbed wire and was going to be shot dead. Srulek is thought to have have been killed later in a death camp.
Following his escape to Gibraltar Henry spent a brief time with the Polish Free Army, which he left because of antisemitic feeling in the ranks. After the war Henry moved to Glasgow where, in 1949, he met Angela Cassidy. He pretended to be a fellow Catholic and was later secretly baptized so they could marry.
Escape from the Ghetto is available in the U.K. at local independent bookstores