THE CHILD AND CHILDREN’S MAS: PLAY,IMAGINATION AND CARIBBEAN IDENTITY

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Children’s Mas, as a visual and participatory form, is a prime space for exploring the child, the imagination and notions of creating identity within the Caribbean. Explored in the context of developmental psychology an exciting range of possibilities come into focus and the value of Children’s Mas, as a vehicle for encouraging healthy understandings of self in relation to the region’s heritage, is revealed. It opens the door for discussing how Children’s Mas may be used to develop the imaginative and cognitive capacity of children to better perceive and inform their future as well as its capacity to ideologically influence Caribbean development.

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Popularly called Kiddies Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, children’s Mas has taken on much of the flourish and ceremony of its adult counterpart, blossoming into a spectacular and sensory fusion of activity that captures the attention of many of the nation’s youth. Over the last sixty years churches, schools, non-profit organizations and private entities have all used the festival as a tool to encourage the development of social, creative and cultural awareness among its young participants. Although the arrangement and scale of the phenomenon may vary in other islands within the Caribbean the potential for it to impact upon the child remains the same. The activities of dance, music, play, costumery and art, that are inherent to the festival, create an adventure of entertainment that provides a seasonal diversion from the contemporary standards and socialization processes of popular media.

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The modern Caribbean child contends daily with multiple narratives projected through the technology and new media available to him or her and whilst they do their part to to customize and indigenize these products, it cannot be discounted that most of them primarily represent identities that are outside the immediate geography of our archipelago. It means that it may be to our benefit to look deeper at the influences that capture our children’s attention and determine activities that effectively introduce them to the endowment of the region’s antecedents. Children’s Mas is such a tool.To fully embrace the value of Children’s Mas to connect our youth with their environment it is important to genuinely look at the benefits of play on the personal and social development of individuals and the impact of art within a society. Both constitute the shape and form of children’s Mas as well as the activity through which it is engaged by the child.

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On a basic level, it presents a space of creativity and expression that children assimilate quickly and readily. The connection with it as a creative process, and its impact as such, are enhanced when children are involved in the various stages of its creation (which is the case with most bands that emerge from a school or an institution). However, even without this immersion, one finds that from very early on the child grasps that the costumes are designed and are representations of aspects of their world. This is important to highlight because it demonstrates that a point of entry for the child into this phenomenon (and his or her subsequent involvement) is as a dynamic creative field of play.

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It is on this point- as a creative field of play- that linkages can substantially be made between aspects of developmental psychology and the developmental capacity of Children’s Mas to nurture the imagination of self. The major parallels in this regard are “multiple intelligences”, “zones of proximal development”, “scaffolding”, “make believe and the imagination”, “openness to experience”, “symbolic play” and “paradigmatic and narrative thought”. These concepts, although derived from different methodologies within developmental psychology have in common that play (particularly creative play) has significant beneficial impacts upon the cognitive and social development of the individual.

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For example, one of the key elements of Children’s Mas is parental involvement. It is an activity that has built into it the integration of the child with other members of society (parents, teachers etc) through play. It is centered on the fact that adult guidance is a critical element of the child’s navigation of his or her environment during the festival. It creates a circuit where many factors that assist emotional development are present- free play, spontaneity, fantasy, creativity, art and parental support; this closely parallels with a “zone of proximal development” encouraged by many developmental psychologists. Within this theory psychologists suggest that a child’s knowledge and emotional maturation can be greatly augmented by adult support during play. It advocates that adults and competent peers can effectively “scaffold” the child’s learning, helping the child to achieve higher levels of  thought and action.

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This approach argues that the “play-development” relationship surpasses the “instructional-development” relationship, because the activities and consequences of play are much broader than those provided by instructional approaches. In a very organic way the activity of Children’s Mas utilizes this process. This play-developmental relationship between parent, child and peers happens spontaneously. It is yet to be seen what the potentials of this type of engagement are if structured and performed specifically with the agenda of emotional and educational development.

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Another example of a major aspect of Children’s Mas that finds strong validation within developmental psychology is the concept of “symbolic play”. Symbolic play is also pretend play and is a critical part of a child’s assimilation of his or her environment. In pretend play children interact with their environment by projecting meanings and stories onto objects and situations they encounter. This type of activity happens in two forms, through dramatic play and sociodramaticplay. In the first the child creates the fantasy, on his or her own, without a script and in the second the child makes-believe, guided by a script of some sort and shares the activity with others. Naturally, because of the structure of Children’s Mas sociodramatic play is more pervasive but it is not uncommon to see children going off into their own imaginings of their costume and their environment. Both the dramatic and the sociodramitc constitute Symbolic play and it is through symbolic play that children gain the courage and confidence to venture further and further into their environment. It is through Symbolic play that they learn to express and represent their ideas, thoughts and feelings. It is also Through Symbolic Play that the imagination is freed and the ultimate impact is the cognitive, social, physical and language development of the child.

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Without a doubt, this is the domain of Children’s Mas and when considered within this context it is clear to see how Children’s Mas can facilitate an agenda of claiming the imagination that characterizes concepts of the Caribbean being. These points only skim the surface of a topic that is vast and has a range of extensions. It is very much unexplored territory that holds promise for techniques of social intervention and stimulation that our researchers have hardly begun to investigate.

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