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"Original Play"® experiences





 Jolanta Graczykowska (the official representative and coordinator of the Original Play® programme in Europe)

After many years of  experience in carrying out the “Original Play”® programme, I had the idea to organize in Poland and other European countries an educational in which children of different nationalities, schools, cultures, and local environments would meet and play together.  This plan would focus on the idea of education as shared life experience without aggression, violence or conflicts. The plan took the form of the “Original Play”® International School Exchange Project. It was my deep wish to create for the children conditions and possibilities to experience the joy of being together and co-operating.  From my own observation and educational practice in various European countries, as well as  that of parents and other educational specialists working with children it is clear that the problem of aggression, violence,  and cultural inclusion are among the most important challenges facing European education.  Educational research and reports confirm this.


"Original Play"® International School Exchange Project - afterthoughts and opinions of participants.1


Jolanta  Graczykowska
Urszula Foks (an university teacher; an apprentice in Original Play®)

Education without aggression, violence, that goes beyond cultural, social, historical divisions has a special mission to accomplish. It is extremely important that we explore and experience one another.
The potential of “Original Play” in solving the problem of aggression and violence also lies in the integration of all play participants. This eliminates the problems of isolation, loneliness, alienation or a personalities so strong that they are experienced as a threat by the other children in the group.
Original play helps children develop the ability to create a safe environment and  conditions for learning and also strengthens a sense of responsibility for these; it shapes these attitudes along with fundamental human values like empathy, openness to another’s needs, sharing responsibility and tolerance.
The idea behind this educational activity was to demonstrate that by using the "Original Play" programme Us and Them can coexist on the principles of humanities and peace and that each one of Us may be Another, while retaining a sense of Self.

 Such educational practice as the "Original Play" International School Exchange Project allows us to see our common values and needs. Playing together without the elements of competition, aggression, without the feeling of being better or worse adjusts our feelings to the feelings of others, triggers positive emotions, alleviates confusion. This kind of prevention relies not on defense and combat, but on offering, sharing, exchanging, learning from each other and teaching one another skills of conflict resolution, thereby minimizing differences.

"Original Play" International School Exchange Project is the first of its kind in Europe, which shows that through adapting "original play" it is possible to eliminate cultural and language barriers and create basic conditions necessary for the development of world peace. The project inscribed itself into the concept of the European dimension of education; it met the education’s greatest challenge and one of its fundamental principles – Learning in order to live together. 



O. Fred Donaldson ( author of the “Original Play” programme )

Adults like to write reports and convene commissions about peace. But true peace must be an experience, not merely an ideal.  Children move us beyond such verbal debates and return us to the living experience of peace. In original play children do not to try to coax peace out of war, but practice the skill of giving and receiving love anew each day without hiding in the transient refuge of fear.    In their original play children discover quickly a deeper sense of belonging that is more important than the obvious differences of language and culture.  This sense of compassion and belonging experienced in original play is the foundation for their learning that a living peace is both  possible and practical.  This learning has been expressed by ten year old Anna as follows, “Play is being able to tell the world that you don’t like what it is doing to you, and not harming anyone while you do it.”


Hanna Konwińska ( Primary School number 92 in Warsaw principal)


“As educators, our primary goal is the well being of the children.  The School Exchange Project was an excellent opportunity for children of two different nationalities to get to know each other, to make friends with each other.  We were able to receive each other with open hearts. The children participated in family life of families where they had accommodation and ties that developed during "Original Play" activities got stronger in other school and after school activities.  All got engaged: children, parents, teachers, Poles and Austrians.”



Steve Heitzer (a coordinator of School Exchange Project in Austria; a teacher at the  Lindenschule in Sistrans/Innsbruck; an apprentice in Original Play®)

Some of the polish kids had stayed very present in my heart and I was so happy to meet them again playing. Other faces popped up like new stars at the little sky of our playing. Among them even some that were very familiar to me as they belonged to our own school. In Original PlayTM it happens that all of a sudden you feel a totally new kind of resonance to people you get to see every day.
It might have been a repeating challenge to our adult guests to give their kids the same freedom that our school environment provides for our kids. But just like you need mindful presence instead of direction in play it is also possible to run a whole school that way. It was very nice to see that our guests had the courage to enter this adventure with our school. Already the first morning the Warsaw school staff entrusted their students to our teachers.



Anna Messner ( Sistrans/Innsbruck School teacher )

Everybody contributes make these days work out so well, adults and kids,  according to necessities, according to their ideas, needs and abilities. And there is still enough time to enjoy the feeling of community, time to comfort in times of worry, time to burn popcorn and time to fool around and laugh.
All of that was carried through by a fine network of human contact, children's curiosity, surprising festivity and infatuated love. But those, who were able to look more deeply and to see the in- and outside of all of that – they saw something else. They saw and felt this finely woven pattern, that held these days together in the midst of it. They saw, what I call universal love. A kind of love, that belongs to everybody and nobody; love that embraces every human being, just like he or she is, speaking Polish, German, English or not speaking at all.
 […] These four days and the experiences I was given have inspired me as a human-being and as a teacher. Original Play is more than just an activity offered in a school exchange program, more than just playing in a safe environment. My experiences have shown me that we can play with kids as well as adults day by day, in every day situations, sincerely, cheerfully, cautiously, boisterously and thoughtfully. I think that Original Play raises a very important question to everybody involved: Do we want and are we able to keep the space between us open for the universal love? We would not have to do more in order to experience love's play, in order to turn into this love ourselves in playing. Then we would be more than teachers, parents or educators. We would be human beings that encounter each other, at home or at school, in Innsbruck or Warsaw, whenever and wherever.


Agnieszka Cz. ( level 6th student, Primary School number 92 in Warsaw )


“I feel very happy that I could participate in the school exchange project.  I was able to meet other kids from Austria.  Although they speak a different language, and they are a bit different, when we played, I didn’t feel such a difference.  I could feel, that They want to get to know us, and We want to get to know them. At the beginning I thought that I would feel a bit shy, in play we were getting to know each other through movement and body language.  However, in the end, it turned out that we could play with each other without problems.  There was no anger or envy between us.  Playing made us happy, gave us joy.  We felt good and secure.  In this game we didn’t have to use any words, for the better I feel – sometimes words can hurt very much.

I would be happy to participate in such a happening again. It’s been an interesting experience.  Although we were from different countries, we got to know each other quite well.  I know now that Austrians are warm and kind people. Thanks to this school exchange we got to know Austrian customs, and we got to know their country.”



Kinga Z. ( level 6th student, Primary School number 92 in Warsaw )


”I recall this School Exchange as a pleasent experience.  Because the Austrian kids didn’t know English very well, and didn’t know Polish at all, we had to empathise with each other, feel each other out.  Thanks to that I got close not only to the Austrians, but also to the girls and boys from our school. When the Austrian kids lived in my house I learned how to be responsible.  I had to take care of them, help them when they where in need.  As if they were younger siblings who needed to be taken care of.

I am very glad that our school participates in such international exchanges.  Thanks to that we can learn a lot.  We can also learn to think not only about ourselves, and, thanks to that, we are not such egoists.  I think that every school should have "Original Play".  It would be good if the teachers played with us as well. We could get to know each other and get to understand
each other in better ways.”



1. Graczykowska J., Foks U.: Education for Peace - “Original Play” International School Exchange Project; Graczykowska J., Foks U. (2009), Edukacja dla pokoju- Projekt Międzynarodowej Szkolnej Wymiany Dzieci w ramach programu „Original  Play”™ [w:] A. Gofron, M. Adamska- Staroń (red.), Podstawy edukacji. Ciągłość i zmiana, Kraków.







Families advanced experiences in Original Play®


Steve Heitzer/ Austria

“These special days at the Rimpf farm”


Our Original Play and family retreat, end of July 2010 in Vinschgau (Venosta) Valley, South Tyrol/Italy

What was so special about them? We did not do anything special, did we?

We just shared some everyday-life: we cooked, we ate, we did the dishes. I liked it when so many of us took part together in all of that. The „gnocchi project“, the Barszcz soup, preparing vegetables, setting the table. I loved the huge pan on the stove and the long green table, that made us come and sit together. The old table in the old „Stube“ (dining room), the windows bringing the light of the mountains across the valley into our shared community.
I always like the plainness of such places that reduces life to the very basics: lighting the fire in the morning, preparing meals and putting things back, going for a walk, playing, no need for „much more important“ things to do, to plan or to think about, going about the pace of a life slowed down by the plainness and by the circumstances of a place surrounded by nature.

[…] One thing, however, did seem special to me even from an outside perspective. If someone had seen our kids so much on their parents backs, they would have been wondering. And of course our playground. I bet there has not often been an original play playground at 1.400 meters with such a magnificent mountain skyline in the background. Going all the way to Bozen to get the mats (and bringing them all the way back) was a disaster in terms of time and ecological footprints. But it sure provided a wonderful place to really get down and play all together. If people waste time and resources for so many useless and destructive things we sure were allowed to do it for sharing the very playing that brought us together in the first place.
But I could feel the spirit of original play even beyond the playground.

[…] The special thing about our days together lay in the spirit that surrounded us like the mountains. It wasn't what we did, it was how we did it together. To be honest, the closer the meeting drew the more I was not only looking forward to it, but also felt anxiety: Would we all get along? So many of us did not know each other, before. How about the kids? Would they get along with each other? Would we be able to meet the needs of everybody? Or would it turn out to be what we call in German a „Schnapsidee“, meaning that the idea wasn't really thought through and ended in a disaster? Well, it didn't. But much more than that: Not only did everybody contribute to the work that needed to be done and not only did we all – including the kids – get along well. There was so much - „Zuneigung“ we call it in German, literally meaning „being inclined towards“ or „bowing to“ each other (- not only because of the low door-frames...), my dictionary translates „affection“, but that does not seem to be quite the same. Maybe that's why I wrote down the lyrics of a song by Katie Melua, a song I like very much and have been listening to in the car these days. May her words catch my feelings:


Some call it fate some call it love
some call it guidance from above
you are the reason we found us
so thank you stars

Some people think it's far away
some know it's within everyday
you are the reason we found us
so thank you stars.

To some it's the strength to be a part
to some it's a feeling in the heart
and when you're out there on your own
it's a way back home.



O. Fred Donaldson/ USA


It was wonderful to watch all of the loving touch between parents and children. I now know that trolls are real, because I stayed in one of their houses. Our home was originally built in 1220  and the doors were  from that time--very short.  I enjoyed the time sharing kitchen chores, playing games and walking in the mountains, and playing together.  And I am thankful for everyone's care for me when I didn't feel well.  How special it was, like one very big extended family--which I think was the point of our trip together.



Michał Graczykowski, age 9/ Poland


I felt so good there.  Beautiful views and fresh air. It was fun to play together. I liked to walk in the mountains, to build  castles from wood with Fred. I liked to spend time with Hannes, too. Steve agreed that I could make a fire alone. He was kind to me.



Magdalena Graczykowska, age 12/ Poland


There was calmness and harmony.
There was quiet; it was nice to be far away from the world full of stress.
I remember exactly the play with Lio. I didn’t understand her, but we played together.
I remember that when I sat on the mats Emma came to me. We started to play together. I was the oldest of the kids, but she had the courage to come near and start to play.
I remember preparing meals together. We came from different countries but we  showed that differences don’t separate us.  It was amazing because when someone at school is from other country others become prejudiced to him.



Jolanta Graczykowska/ Poland

“Thank you so much”


I have a feeling of gratitude and a need to thank you all for sharing this special time with me and my children at Rimpf.
Tija- thank you for making me calmer when I saw how many of us came to Rimpf and how much food we should prepare. You prepared first lunch and I saw that it is possible.
Mathias- thank you for your organization of our stay and for your care of us there. Thank you for your determination and for taking the mats to Rimpf from another town so we had the possibility to play together.
- you have so much energy! Looking at you is enough to give me power for the whole day.
Clara- thank you for your trust in me.
Florin- thank you for your courage. You showed me that it’s possible to sit over the precipice of a mountains and be joyful and relaxed. Thank you for your brisk play with me. I liked it very much.
Steve- thank you for your good-will and kindness, for your support in many situations and for your  ability to be active and calm at the same time.
Priska- thank you for your goodness.
Anna- thank you for your nice play with me.
Lio- thank you for your openness to me.
Petra- thank you for your calmness and good- will. Thank you for your activity in kitchen in the early morning (before we got up).
Hannes- thank you for your kindness and sharing time with our children. You have a lot of patience with them.
Hannah- thank you for your hugs which make me warmer mostly in  my heart.
Ula- thank you for being with me and sharing time together from the beginning to the end of our trip. You and your daughter are so close to my heart.
Inka- thank you for your impatient questions: “ When will we play!?”
Magda- thank you for our special conversations and openness. It’s good to have a friend in my daughter.
Michał- thank you for your enchantment with the world.  Your words are so simple and beautiful.


Fred- thank you for being with us. Thank you for your time, attention and love you shared with us.
Thank you all of you…


Paulina (Inka) Foks (age 9)/ Poland

The play was the most important to me. I enjoyed visiting some places near Rimpf, meeting a new people, but  the play on the mats was the most important.

Urszula Foks/ Poland
“Remembering Rimpf - land of marmor & marillen”
A few days of being together with Fred (USA) and five families from Italy, Austria, Germany and Poland. Days of community, cooperation and support. I discovered how to follow children’s needs - Tija heard Inka's request for dumplings. And she started "gnocchi project ", we all joined it. Later  we all chose "adventure way" from waterfalls - Steve, Priska, Petra, Hannes - I admire your attitude to children, your calmness care and trust. Hannes had always time to play with children table games (Carcasonne is the best here). Mathias got mats, even from Bolzano and he did it with a little help from our friends . Fred was very close to us, he even helped to do dishes day by day. He was first on the mats, all for us. Jola's heart was opened, she reacted consciously . Her idea was “geburtstag” card for Hannes. She was playground for us.
 Our children: Emma, Clara, Florine, Anna, Lio, Hannah, Magda, Michał and Inka- they loved to play on colored  playground. After play on mats they didn't want to stop contact -they played and talked in theirs rooms- with kindness and calm.
My daughter, Inka had home sick - she was first time abroad. But after two days  since we started play on mats, she felt like home.
Thank you, all of you - Ula.



Hannah Winterer/Germany

It was very good to experience how so many people from different countries were playing together. Everything was very harmonic. It was a very nice time. And thank you to you all.



Hannes Winterer/Germany

I felt very relaxed. These were real holidays. I am glad that I found new friends. I look forward to seeing you all again. Thank you for the wonderful birthday breakfast.


Petra Winterer/Germany

I am very grateful for this week. For me it was a wonderful experience to see that all generations could be together so peacefully and joyfully even in daily routine. It was very special to experience how we became more and more heartfelt after the play sessions. Thank you all. It was a very precious time, a very special gift.






Teresa Distelberger, Austria

My Original Play Experience – International seminar in Warsaw


I always heard Fred saying “Children are the real masters who will teach you how to play.” – Now I know, he’s right. Doing the workshops before was like learning how to swim while still standing on the beach. There was Fred, telling me about the substance of water, how it feels, how to move with it. In Warsaw I finally entered the sea, applying what I learned, learning more and being very grateful for the feeling of safety provided by the presence of Fred and Jola. I know that it was just a beginning and that there is so much more to discover in this ocean that is called Original Play.


Thanks to the guided training with Fred and Jola, I developed the courage and confidence I needed to embark further on the Original Play adventure, look for playmates, take on the responsibility on new playgrounds and start to live life like play.



Steve Heitzer, Austria
The Power of Love. Looking back on 3 days of Original Play in Warsaw.1


Alone again in Warsaw. The feeling of anxiety has returned. I am sitting at the Central Station of Warsaw. It is half past six and my train won’t leave before 9 p.m.. It is getting dark outside and the people going in and out bring in the cold air from winters end.  I am surrounded by the language I don’t speak and in the midst of people I don’t know. The announcing of trains that leave for Minsk and Moscow make me shiver and all that I have experienced just hours before appears but  as a dream given to me beneath a warm and cosy blanket. But here I see two young ladies running towards each other and celebrating their reunion. I can feel the smile returning to my face and  love making its way back to my heart and mind. And it reminds me of what Fred sometimes points to: we have basicly 2 modes to live in, the mode of fear and the mode of love. Whenever we are able to let go of the fear that we usually live and function in, we can switch over to the mode of love. The love he means is probably best expressed in the Japanese kalligrafy that Fred just gave us at the end of the seminar. The sign unifies heart and mind and keeps together the centers of intelligence that our western languages separate. And my heart and mind goes back to what I experienced today.

It is strange, but I can literally still smell the children that we played with this morning, especially of Ala, the little girl that touched my heart today. She must have been about 4 years old and the only word she said was “Aja” which reminded me so much of my own daughters: of Lioba calling her sisters name Anna-Sumaya which also turns into “Aja”. Ala (Alisza) is blind and can hardly move at all. But she is a fountain of love that we were allowed to hold in our hands today. Already when they had taken her out of the wheelchair and put her on the floor – together we all the other “special needs kids” – my heart was moved. Although I first stayed with the young man I helped out of the wheelchair, I knew that I had to go back to Ala. When Jola had passed her on to Megans2 lab I started to approach her. Opening up the circle of love that already surrounded them Megan shared this precious treasury with me. Words can not express the communion of love that I felt.

And I am still amazed at the power of love that filled the whole room with all the others on the floor. How could anybody bring about an atmosphere like this with 20 participants of a seminar (that for the most part had never seen one another before), about 10 teachers and parents, and the kids on the playground? What an incredible sense of trust and sympathy between the 20 playmates that Fred and Jola had invited to come and play! Fred calls play “divine love in action”, and if it is possible to feel Gods presence, it must feel like what I had felt today. At least we got a glimpse of it. Today and already the two days before.

Of course I was also a little bit afraid and worried when I saw all the special kids being brought into the room, some of them yelling and one of them being totally upset. But already knowing about and experiencing the art Fred and Jola are masters in, calmed down all my anxiety and fears and made me ready for my own little part in this choreografy of play. And it felt more like we all were the dance and somebody beyond us were the dancer. What an experience!


And the days before? We followed a well arranged schedule of starting out with the very little babies and toddlers and their mothers, moving on to preschool/kindergarten and primary school before we came to the special needs kids this morning.


My own beginning was an ambiguous mixture of feelings and questions when we were all together on the floor with the babies and their mothers or grandmothers. Fred had warned us not to get into a contest of who will “make  the most kids”. And although I laughed and didn’t think that this could happen to me, I could tell very soon what he was talking about. It wasn’t the others, it was myself getting confused by all the voices inside my own head telling me what to do or comparing me with the all the others of our group that already got their toddler to play with. And I became aware of the fact that most of the babies felt perfectly fine with their mothers, or were more interested in the other kids on the mats and some of the toys they had brought. It did not need me to have a playmate. I was here to learn, not to be the one they had all been waiting for. And I also observed some (grand)mothers that wanted to get their child to play with us strangers. It really did not make sense to even increase the pressure on the toddlers, if they were fine without me and others in the group. I had to understand that I am not doing something wrong when there is nobody to play with for me. It is surprising in the first place that they all feel alright with more than 20 of us strangers, plus all the mothers and babies they might not have seen before either. So when my mind began to settle down I was able to let go of all the confusing voices in my head and just be a part of this extraordinary meeting here at “Fundacja Sto pociech”, the house of 100 consolations. And also share the joy of others like Robert who had found a little boy that rolled around with him and got so close to him as if he was his father. Doing nothing but sit and crawl around these wonderful people here became an exercise of letting go of myself and becoming a part of a loving environment encouraging parents to make themselves accessible for their own kids. As living “toys” that “can do what no other toy can: give and receive love”, like Fred put it when we talked about the toys some of the kids had brought. It is sad to say but it’s true that a lot of us parents neither take the time nor are willing to really be with their kids when they are with us. To give them 100% of attention for the moments they ask for it, is sometimes so much more difficult than to buy them a toy or even organize a program for the whole weekend. But what they really need is us, just for this very moment, here and now when they get in touch with us. Original Play is both: 1.An extra time of loving touch and real physical and personal presence with nothing else to do and think. And 2. an exercise to practise the same presence outside the playground – with our kids as well as with others and even life itself. If that is what we are able to communicate or at least have people get a taste of – then it does not matter wether we have literally got into touch with one of the kids or not.


With the kids at kindergarten and the school I keep being surprised about the trust they show to all the adults they have never seen before. And I can’t get enough of the joy and light in their glowing faces when they sit there ready to play, impatiently waiting for their turn. If I wouldn’t know anything about the benefits that Original Play proves on a reasearch basis, the kids’ faces alone are proof enough that it meets their deepest needs. I will never forget the shrieking of a boy jumping on my back when almost a year ago Fred and Jola and a group of workshop-participants played with 3rd graders at a local Waldorf school: “Des is soooo geil!” he yelled, which means something like: “This feels sooooo great!”. It was as if he wanted to say: Finally they got it. Finally they let us do what we all need!

It really doesn’t take much to see that most of the kids really enjoy this simple and natural way of playing which needs to follow no method, principle, technique, no program nor goal. All it tries is to provide a safe environment and the chance to give and receive love. I can just be myself with no expectations to meet and no role to perform. I can be funny and still not mimic the clown. I may have my doubts about what I am doing here and notice all the thoughts and feelings that run through my head and heart, and still try to come back again and again to the very moment of play and to the very person that is ready to interact with me. Once we are able to focus our attention to Here and Now, we can leave all our worries behind, touch the intelligence of the moment and trust our intuition. The kids we play with allow us to make mistakes and will show us anyhow, wether what we do is appropriate or not.


I was lucky to have a precious experience with a boy in the kindergarten we played at the afternoon of the first day. Fred asked me to move to the end of our playground to see wether we could integrate a timid boy that stayed outside the group. Since he seemed afraid of me I turned to another boy that was already playing with Theresa, another participant from Austria. I first was not shure wether I would distract him from Theresa but I was able to let go of thinking and just opened up for what the moment had in store. So I started to go with his hands and his polish words (he was constantly speaking) and we got into a very nice and joyful interaction. Theresa provided the physical basis for the little “trips” the two of us took, but he did not allow me to come much closer than to touch his hands, feet and arms. In terms of getting physically close he was obviously perfectly fine with Theresa as his harbour and with her courageous elements of rolling around with him. At the same time he enjoyed to interact with me. After a while I noticed that Fred was watching us and for a moment I wondered wether something was wrong. But fortunately I could let go and go back to play. When he afterwards told us that the boy was diagnosed autism and that the teachers were very surprised that he was able to stay in our playing for such a long time, I was moved deeply and  happy to have experienced the great power of play myself. Both – the constant eye-contact and the long social play stand against the diagnosis of autism and impressively demonstrate the benefits of Original Play. Fortunately we did not know about the diagnosis, because we would have probably allowed it to interfere with our approach to him. It might have determined if not spoiled our whole interaction. Without knowing it we were able to play with him just like we did with all the others. In addition: we experienced what Fred keeps repeating: Play is when we get all the “categories” out of the way. Play is “when we don’t know that we are different”. Play is when there is one face of God playing with another one.


I have organized quite a few workshops so far with Fred and Jola in Innsbruck and every time we were able to feel what play does to the atmosphere in the group. But this was different. Moving from a workshop to the real playing part all together, provided an experience I have had only very few times before in my life. The power of love really allows the boundaries to disappear and holds the promise that “peace is a child's play”. And Fred's dream is it hand: going out there and help make peace in the world – even if it's but the tiny little range our life has. With all the others that are trying to do that in all kinds of ways Original Play is a wonderful “peace force” with the power to transform instead of defeat and to reunify instead of eliminate.

Thank God for that experience. Thanks Fred for your discovery and the wide range of experience you shared with us. Thanks Jola for your own work, for the invitation and wonderful organization. Your own art of playing is beautiful to watch, your trust and love are contagious. And your cooperation with Fred has helped us all to get ourselves started. The people in Warsaw have gone ahead showing that it is possible to open our hearts and institutions for Original Play. Dziekuje i do widzenia, Warszawa!


1. For the first time O. Fred Donaldson and Jolanta Graczykowska, representative and coordinator of Original Play in Europe, invited people from different parts of Europe to come to an international Seminar on Original Play with the focus on the actual part of playing with children of all ages. 18 women and 2 men from Sweden, Finland, Germany, Austria, England and Poland joined to play with babies, toddlers, kindergarten- and school-kids. Steve Heitzer from Innsbruck was part of the extraordinary gatherings in Warsaw March 4th -6th 2008. This is his very personal report on what he experienced.


2.Megan lives in England and was also a participant to the Seminar.






Sonja Mille, Rainer Deutner, Austria

Our experiences in Original Play on our trip through Bulgaria, Romania and the Republic of Moldova


n the Spring 2011 we traveled through Bulgaria, Romania and the Republic of Moldova.  It was a very intense ten weeks, in which we had beautiful encounters with a farmer on his oxcart, with shepards and their herds, with elegant pelicans in the Danube delta at sunrise, ...  and with so many children. We played for three weeks in four different orphanages and homes for kids, all of them are part of the Austrian Christian Organization, "Concordia".  Concordia began 20 years ago to support street children in Bucharest and now runs several homes for children from difficult family-backgrounds.  When the children grow older they can get professional education.  Concordia even runs soup kitchens for the poorest people in the Republic of Moldova.


In the beginning of April we went to Sofia, where Concordia started just half a year ago with a home for twelve children, mainly from Roma-backgrounds.  We stayed there for four days.   We played in a very small room that we almost completely covered with five mattresses from beds. The children who played with us were between six and fourteen years old. In the beginning many of them only knew two different modes: escape or attack.  It was completely new to us that children focus so much on our necks: first they grabbed our necks with their hands and then they wrapped their bodies around us like scarves. After the first day our necks were scratched, so we had to learn to move faster so that the children played on other parts of our bodies.  Anyway, in  the following days the children became rounder, smoother and nicer  in their play with us, but they still tried to hit and kick each other heavily inside and outside the playground. Our feeling was that many of them don‘t have postponement strategies, they just wanted to play with us at once. So we had a lot to do trying out different settings. Finally we can say that all of them played with us in one-to-one-situations, but almost none of them could wait for his or her turn. We felt the children were very much in need of loving touch.  It was so moving when we had the opportunity to play with an 8-years old boy, nobody else was in the room and no other child was rattling at the door and for the first time he seemed to be saturated with touch and asked for a break.


Odd! - On our way through the four institutions the conditions got easier and in addition we were more experienced.


Four weeks later and enriched with impressions from beautiful landscapes in the Rhodopi Mountains in Bulgaria and in the Danube Delta we came to two Romanian homes with 160 children, where we stayed nine days. It was so nice and helpful that we got a 
translator for the whole time. In one of the homes, the director was especially supportive and very interested in original play. Each day we played five with seven groups. It was very easy to get in loving touch with the children inside and outside the playground; every time we walked in the area children came to hug us. We realized that in the evening we were more tired from keeping the children around the mats focused on us than from the play itself.  Our backs ached and we had sore knees. And of course, it  was good that we had each other to exchange our feelings: on the one hand, we were  filled with giving and receiving love and on the other hand we were moved by some of the children‘s biographies. Two farewells so close to each other were quite difficult for us. So we went hiking in the loneliness of the Carpathian Mountains to digest our experiences.


Finally in the beginning of June we came to a huge home for 250 kids in the Republic of Moldova - a former Soviet Republic, where people are speaking Romanian and Russian. Allegedly it is the poorest country in Europe at the moment. The conditions for playing were very comfortable, we had a classroom of our own in an extra building.  We again had a translator. We stayed six days and played with six to seven groups a day, which wasn't as tiring as before, because the children were used to being quiet - for us sometimes the children were strangely quiet. The children played differently than we had experienced: for many of them it took quite a while to get in touch with us and then they rarely got on our backs but loved to be part of a nest below our bodies. As there were 250 children we planned to play only two times with each group. But some children managed to sneak in several times, and of course, we let them.


In all four institutions we presented the basic ideas of original play to the directors, only with one director we felt deeply understood. The others stressed the importance of contests for being able to survive in the world of competition. Still, all of them were interested in original play and we are welcome to play there whenever we come back.

And yes, we will!


Sonja Mille, an apprentice in Original Play®; counselor for families and for women as victims of domestic violence
Rainer Deutner, an apprentice in Original Play®; physical therapist, language artist