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Maverick Life

‘The Inside Book’: Telling children why we need to stay inside

'The Inside Book' Illustrations Matthew Griffiths (Image design by Matthew Griffiths for Maverick Life)

Matthew Griffiths decided that the best way to explain the lockdown to children – and use his skills efficiently – was by writing and illustrating a digital children’s book.

During the first week of lockdown in South Africa, Matthew Griffiths, a freelance creative based in Sea Point, Cape Town, penned and illustrated a children’s book called The Inside Book, about why we’re staying indoors. From playing hide and seek, to pretending to be pirates, the book talks to kids in their own language, with colourful graphics on how to wash your hands and protocol for coughing and sneezing.

“I wanted to see what I could contribute, I do a lot of graphic design work and I initially started thinking about doing explainer videos for Covid-19 and how it works but I realised that many other people were doing that so I thought about doing something for kids,” he told Maverick Life over the phone.

Like many freelance creatives across the world, paying work for Griffiths has come to a grinding halt. He fills his days with journaling in the morning, zoom yoga classes, caring for plants that are growing on the balcony and finding space for mindfulness and creativity.

After writing and illustrating The Inside Book, Griffiths sent it out on WhatsApp to friends and family members to read to their children and, over the past few weeks, it’s been shared widely with teachers and other parents.

Griffiths realised that while there is a wealth of information for adults about the virus and social responses to it, resources for children about Covid-19 are few and far between.

“I knew people would really value something that would help their children understand why we’re all stuck inside and what’s happening out there,” he said.

There has been a surge in resources for parents about how to talk to children about Covid-19. A recent report from the UN International Childrens Emergency Fund (Unicef) says, in times of high stress, anxiety and uncertainty, parents should be calm and proactive and allow children to communicate about how they’re feeling. Being honest and explaining the facts in a child-friendly way is also important.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also have useful tips for parents, school staff, and others working with children, including how to avoid language that may lead to stigma and paying attention to the kind of media children are being exposed to.

For parents and caregivers, and especially those with young children, it is useful to have a tool to explain why play-dates are being cancelled and visits to the park are suddenly a no-no.

The book is free to access online and Griffiths is in the process of getting it translated into isiXhosa to extend its reach.

“I’ve gotten feedback from friends and family, parents have sent voice notes from their kids saying ‘thanks Uncle Matthew’,” he says, chuckling. “I realised that being stuck inside doesn’t have to be terrible, there are loads of fun activities and imagination play we can do.”

While it might be tempting to turn on the tube or let children entertain themselves with a tablet or phone, there has been growing concern about the increase in screen time and lack of physical activity for children in lockdown.

According to Unicef, more than 1.5 billion children and young people across the world have been affected by school closures and accessing the outside world via screens is leaving them vulnerable to inactivity. Helen Ingle and Susan Coan, academics at Leeds Beckett University write that lack of physical activity has major health implications for children, including an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and mental health issues and while vigorous play is not always possible, especially for those who do not have a garden or large living areas, imaginary play can provide mental and physical stimulation.

Child psychologist Sally Goddard Blythe, director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology and author of The Genius of Natural Childhood: Secrets of Thriving Children, spoke to the UK’s  Telegraph about how imaginary play allows children to develop problem-solving skills and come up with new possibilities, which in turn develops important faculties in critical thinking that will help the child throughout life.

Whether a box turns into a castle, a boat or a spaceship, or kitchen Tupperware turns into building blocks for a city on the moon, children need to be given the opportunity to play freely.

“Imagination is vitally important during this time, for kids to be able to do imaginary play, to build a fort and make hats and be a pirate for the day, be an athlete, be a doctor, it’s an important learning skill,” says Griffiths. “I’m hoping this book will help encourage imaginary play and we don’t necessarily need to watch YouTube videos tomorrow, let’s go and build a boat and sail the high seas.” DM/ML

Read The Inside Book for free online: www.mattcgriffiths.com

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