Updated: Sep 27, 2021
The game of cooties lets children learn about the idea of contagion, but kid culture and wordplay aren't meant for adults.
In these strange pandemic times, small children all over the world are on lockdown. To many frazzled parents, juggling home schooling, child care, work, and economic worries, in often small spaces, it may feel like living in some dark fairy tale.
With schools shuttered and education moves imperfectly online, many responsible adults are worried and anxious. Catching COVID-19 at school is a major concern. But if some children just stay home and play all day, how are they going to learn what they need to grow into happy, healthy, and functioning adult members of society? Will their educational development be stunted by this extraordinary break in normal life? Should schools open up earlier than other community institutions and businesses on the premise that children are not like other, older humans.
These are all valid questions. In this unprecedented time in which nothing seems to make sense, the fragilities of modern society are revealed, from stark economic inequality to the stigmatization of some of the more vulnerable among us. Without formal instruction and supervision, how will kids make sense of a world where nothing is normal, where people wear masks and keep far away from each other, lest they catch something fearsome, like cooties.
The truth is that the world of children is darker and weirder and perhaps more creatively resilient than adults often assume. It is there that kids are exposed to such things as contagion, plague, mysterious accidents, social inequality, and political intrigue and executions - and pass them on to others, from generation to generation. Through the medium of the playground games and the seemingly harmless nursery rhymes and nonsensical wordplay that children delight in, a grim and unsettling depiction of the world endures. Like Alice's Wonderland, almost nothing seems to make sense.