Play and time are inextricably linked. There is no singular ‘time for play’ (just as there is no singular ‘time for space’) because play and time are woven together, because they are the same fabric. Play is woven with time, and time is woven with play. Observe how a child might continue a frame of play which is, in the eye of an observer, separated by three or four weeks but which is, within the playing child, the simple-elegance yet simply-nuanced natural play progression: as if no conventional time has passed at all. Play happens all the time. Or, more precisely, play, if perceived as a particle, is one whose moment ‘position’ (or ‘event’) in the play-time construct is — just like a ‘position/event’ in space-time — without specific duration: the tracing of that particle of play’s various events, in play-time, is (in space-time terms) its ‘world line’ (Collier, 2017), but in this model’s terms, its ‘songline’, as repurposed (after Battram, 2007; after Chatwin, 2003). Sometimes, to the nuance-literate observer, play’s songline is evident; sometimes it is tacitly comprehended as just below the otherwise perceivable surface. In either manner of observing, as described, play happens all the time. Other modes of observing result only in parcelled, binary understandings of play.
In space-time, the event (position) of a particle is denoted by x, y, z, t. In play-time, we’re not observing Cartesian co-ordinates in a three-dimensional Euclidean space but rather, and linking to Sturrock and Else’s (1998) play cycle, and regarding the ‘events’ of play, we’re observing: the ‘x’ (the co-ordinate we can liken to the aspects-combination of the play cycle that is Annihilation-Metalude), the ‘y’ (Cue-Return), the ‘z’ (Frame-Flow), plus the ‘t’ of time (i.e. how time is felt within the playing child, pertinent to the play engaged in, e.g. is this play that is being created/coming into being, repeated in its co-ordinates, co-ordinate modified?).
Play happens all the time, inextricably in and of time, either evident and perceivable or just below the surface. A moment position of a particle of play is an ‘event’, and event strings form play songlines, which may be traced and read. The play-time construct is the medium in which the playing child is: as such, particles of play have no regard for conventional temporal bounds.
To be further explored.
Battram, A. (2007) in Palmer, M., Wilson, P. and Battram, A. (2007), The playing that runs through us all: illustrating the playwork principles with stories of play in Russell, W., Handscomb, B. and Fitzpatrick, J. (Eds) (2007), Playwork voices. London: The London Centre for Playwork Education and Training.
Chatwin, B. (2003), The songlines. London: Vintage.
Collier, P. (2017), A most incomprehensible thing: notes towards a very gentle introduction to the mathematics of relativity. Cited in Wikipedia (2020). Lulu EPub: Incomprehensible Books.
Sturrock, G. and Else, P. (1998), The playground as therapeutic space: playwork as healing — the Colorado paper. IPA/USA: Triennial National Conference.
Wikipedia (2020), Spacetime [online]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacetime (Accessed May 2, 2020).
In our play, we are ourselves and we’re noticed as such. I would like to investigate the fusing of this idea with another, but these are the beginnings of something not the final construct. This is the start of something new (welcome to the twenties): nascent thoughts and writings, quanta, experimentations, which may or may not morph into longer, more thought-out strings sometime. In our play, we are ourselves and I’m interested in what I’m seeing as play-time. That is to say, not play-time as in ‘time for play’ (time parcelled up), but rather think of play-time in the same way as we now think of space-time. We exist in space-time (not in space without time, or time without space), and so it is with play-time: play and time are inextricably linked. There is no singular ‘time for play’ (just as there is no singular ‘time for space’) because play and time are woven together, because they are the same fabric. Play happens all the time. Play does not conform to being sliced up into ‘time for this’ or ‘time for that’: we don’t realise that we live in play-time, where play is always in existence. Within the construct of play-time, there are bodies, individuals (like planets, or perhaps better, like black holes in space-time). Each individual has its own play-mass, which can accumulate: the play-mass of individuals can become greater and greater. The greater the mass, the greater the gravity. An individual in play-time can attract the play matter or energy of what surrounds it. We can see the playground (by which I mean any place of play, any ground of play) as a galaxy spinning: all its stars and planets, all its moons and other play-masses in a great, grand dance. In their play, we see the stars for themselves and they are noticed as such. Children are stars, of course, in many ways. Yet, a star in a box is not the same as a star in the sky. In their play, we see children for themselves and they are noticed as such.
Once upon a time, so the old beginning goes, there was a group of children who, individually and collectively, I felt were almost too subtle, sublime and exquisite in being for the majority of adults to see. I saw this in them, and they — for the most part — saw me. I was privileged, every day, to spend time with them at play, though it was a make-do play sometimes, in a make-do environment, with make-do stuff and make-do ways of navigating. I don’t know for sure what the children thought about my presence but I trust that it was (by way of registering their actions around me, their tellings of the great importances and important trivialities of their lives to me, their trust) a process of thinking that was not about a make-do adult. Once upon a time this group of children, willingly, gave me all the treasure within themselves that they, perhaps, would not or could not fully give to certain others. This writing is in appreciation; this story is a story of children and time.
When children play, they play in the now of course, but they also often bring with them a great richness of time, of play-in-time, of time-in-play, of play-times. That is to say, the play of the now is soaked through with the play that has been, once, and with play that has been, many times; this play is also threaded through with the richness of relating. Often when I’m out walking with family children, we reach a place where, once, we played this or that, or we joked here, or we talked about such and such there and it morphed into something played and funny or significant in other ways; when we reach that place again, that once-was-play becomes significant again, re-played. The place is a place because it is full of time and times. It is the same on a playground, for example, full of children. As each day passes, each place within the overall place of the playground becomes stronger for the play that once was; it shines brighter, or it seems to have more mass. The greater the mass, the greater the gravity.
This story is a story of children and time . . .
It stretches over a year. I don’t know when I first noticed it in this playground place, but somewhere along the line I started experiencing the phenomena of repetitions of play around me and absorbing me. Sometimes these were small moments of play, sometimes they were larger and longer. A girl of six or seven would show me her wobbly tooth, every day, smiling and saying nothing (it was an everydayness of play); later she would appear at my side, calm and quiet, not needful, as I read it, just saying nothing, gently smiling and then gently following me around for a while before disappearing again; a boy, that summer, kept getting my name wrong, using a name I didn’t at that moment understand, day after day, and then he ‘rang me’ on a phone he’d concocted, and the whole name-play fell into this; other children, younger children, used my real name in beautiful ways (with subtlety, with care, or with smiles in their eyes); some children, younger and older, concocted names for me, and the former used these in innocent interaction and the latter used them to play a wider, more nuanced and clever, clever game (all the names tumbled and tumbled in time and rose to the surface, here and there, there and then, dipped away again for a while; all the names were laced in play).
There were countless small moments of play between myself and individual children, and I don’t know for sure if the other adults saw these treasures or, if they did, if they knew what they were seeing at all. A playworker will know or sense another playworker, but someone not of a playworking-mind will not sense the play hidden in plain sight. Children are play-minded, of course, and so they know. A younger child would greet me every day with a simple, brief and very individual movement of her hands; another of the same age would crook her finger to beckon me, subverting the adult-child dynamic to a child-adult, and I would obey, sit down, and she would tell me all her fantastic imaginings, dead-pan, of the day, every day; I told stories to others too, and for weeks afterwards, months later in some cases, small actions from those stories were relayed back to me, in passing; there was a period in which I’d developed individual salutations for individual children, and I played these over and over, sometimes in cues, sometimes in returns, but once I forgot the matching of the child and the salutation, trying everything but receiving nothing in return — the child eventually turned, smiled, winked at me playfully.
In our longer interactions, the children would often get me to hold one end of a lengthy skipping rope, the other end of which we tied to the leg of a bench. All manner of skipping variations ensued, not just on any given day but time piled on times: the place or places of skipping became richer, imbued with us, with all the children’s experimentations, with their names for ways of playing, with my names for things, with the great construct that swilled there and which was a wide and deep amalgam of us. When I stepped away from the skipping, as I sometimes did, judging that the play needed this or could withstand it, the form of the whole took on different shapes, sustained itself for a while, or dissolved. When I was in it, by the children’s request, I was as integral to it, I felt, as time. This said, the play (I remind myself here and now), was not about me, but I was in it, a part of it.
I was not a child, the children and I knew this, and they also knew that I had the adultness about me that I necessarily had because of my age, my height, my work; however, sometimes they said to me or did things around me that told me, directly or indirectly, that I was understood and trusted in ways that others of my kind just aren’t. Sometimes, and repeated over time, with time and times, it was a look they gave me, or sometimes it was a simple stuck-out tongue, a thumb to the nose and fingers waggled; sometimes, it was a sudden appearance in front of me, coming right up close to my face and shouting out their anger (not anger at me, to me: fermented by the close proximity, the unwanted attentions, or the oppressions of others). All of this makes me wonder how many adults children can say and do these things to without fear of emotional or psychological retribution. Over time, in time and with times, children know. Often, and simultaneously, they also know almost instantly. There are intuitions at play that many adults have forgotten how to use.
Once upon a time, there was a group of children who, individually and collectively, I felt were almost too subtle, sublime and exquisite in being for the majority of adults to see. To those children, all (and this probably won’t be the last I write of them), I offer here my gratitude, namaste (to some I saluted, to some it was a curtsey, some I bowed to). Our time, these times, repeated and replayed in all their flavours, fashions, fancies, were healings, I felt, then and now: what damage others might cause by their words, their actions, their demeanours, play and relating and all its interactions can go some way to mending.
It was with sadness that I learned of Gordon Sturrock’s passing, just a few weeks ago now, pretty much five years exactly since the passing of Perry Else. The two are inextricably connected with one another in my mind and studious experiences. Just as was the case with Perry, I knew that Gordon was unwell, but that his illness was terminal (he said as much a year or so ago at the PlayEd conference in Cambridge). I knew also, by this spring just gone, that Gordon had only a matter of a few months left to live. Even so, the inevitable news of such final events still has the potential to leave a recipient a little caught unawares. It is, therefore, all the more laudable that Gordon’s late flurry of writing and communications with other playwork writers and thinkers took place with such focus on his part.
I had spent the best part of last summer developing ideas with Gordon, via email, and writing those ideas into what became our joint paper, published in the autumn. I was acutely aware of the support he was providing, not just for myself, but for others engaged in study and development of their playwork writings. Gordon seemed to have a need to make use of what time he had left to succinct effect. He wrote at length to various groups, and to individuals; he sent books and other gifts. It was, in my reading of his focus, a way of saying to those he communicated with: keep it all going, think, keep thinking, take this all on further.
Around Christmas and the New Year, Gordon launched into an array of lengthy written communiques with a group of play and playwork thinkers and writers. He was passionate therein about an urgency in social and political constructs. He kept a keen eye, and also fed into his other various writings, the goings-on of the ‘gilets jaunes’, the yellow vests, and the mass protests taking place in France at that time. He sent a gift of a yellow vest, compelling that it be worn with pride. Gordon was seeing playwork and its reason for being having a place amongst the precariat. Those missive communiques, pamphlets reminiscent of tubthumping calls to arms of days gone by (I imagined they might be carefully typeset and nailed to telegraph poles, or illicitly pasted up somewhere, in alleys in bohemian quarters, maybe, in the deep of night), those pamphlets sit quietly awaiting my re-reading again, visible in my email intray.
Those who have read much of Gordon’s work would no doubt agree that his writing often required a great deal of concentration. Gordon was of the opinion that those who failed to understand the words he was using (and his vocabulary was extensive) should invest in a dictionary rather than him dumb it down. I readily admit that my vocabulary has improved significantly because of Gordon’s writing. In person, however, you seldom needed that dictionary.
I have an abiding memory of Gordon observing me as I was (what I now come to term more and more as) playworking. It was maybe a dozen years ago and we were at a small conference. There were maybe only a couple of children there, maybe only the one, the son of a delegate, and there was a break in proceedings. The boy played and, every now and then, cued me into the flow of things. I went with that flow. Gordon was nearby, quietly taking everything in. He later told me what I was doing, a level I was operating on, which I was conversant with as he explained what he’d seen but which, over the years of reflecting on this one play frame, I understand better and better as I replay recent playworking through that same lens. Gordon had explained to me his observation of a playworker witnessing their practice as they worked. As with other significant moments of appreciated feedback, I have never forgotten this or him taking the time to observe and see to it that it was worthwhile to tell me.
His explanation linked very much with certain aspects written into the Colorado Paper, which he co-authored with Perry Else. This remains, to this day, a seminal paper in the playwork field, even though many still haven’t read it, and few have understood it fully (suchlike as this was in one of Gordon’s final laments). I will not claim that I understand the Colorado Paper fully, but I become more astutely aware of its inner workings every time I consider it and every time I run it through my current reflections and practice. On more than a few occasions, Gordon used the idea of a paper or thinking process being ‘a North’. I read that as something akin to following the Pole Star. The Colorado Paper is a North.
Gordon’s background in psychoanalysis has taught me plenty, or set me off into trying to find out plenty, on the significant matters of potential neuroses, therapeutic (small ‘t’) interaction, and the sheer weight of what might be in our day-to-day experiences around children. Play, and the playworker (minus the possible manifestation of the ego), have great and graceful, small and significant affects that can, under conducive circumstances, make such difference. Gordon knew this. If we indulge in the slightly reductionist exercise, for a moment, of choosing which strand of playwork thinking suits our own experiences and worldviews best, mine has for a long time favoured Gordon and Perry’s psycholudic consideration, a little ahead of Bob Hughes’ evolutionary writings (as valued as they also are) or developmental schools.
What Gordon gave me, through his writings and other communications, was the gentle persuasion to explore deeper and deeper into concepts I thought I already knew well enough, but of course, didn’t quite. I am aware, currently, that a regular group of children can bring to this playworker, daily, all their play, all their stories and continued narratives, all their possibilities and all their tumbling agitations with one another, with where they are, with the adult world and so on, but they also bring all their projections and all their transference. One of the last things that Gordon wrote, deep down in a missive to be relocated, was about how we should, as I read it, examine the counter-transference in our practice.
Gordon had always engendered in me the desire to think, and he still does, just these few weeks after his passing. Peace be to you, Gordon: an Artisan-Erudite.
I, and my words, have wintered and now it’s almost spring. What of play, now, after these months of thinking, reading, always either being in with empathy, reflecting on or observing around this most ineffable of sustenances? I recently came across an article that seemed to link with my previous recent writings embracing mutual aid, collaboration and connectivity. The article (Let’s do branch: how trees socialise and help their neighbours by Amy-Jane Beer, 2019) is, admittedly, published primarily as a paid-for product placement link in an online national newspaper; however, glazing over that, I was caught up by the analogy I found myself conjuring of a forest of children, en mass, at play.
Despite appearances, trees are social beings. For a start, they talk to each other. They’re also sensing, co-operating and collaborating . . .
Read as: Despite appearances, children are social beings. For a start, they talk to each other. They’re also sensing, co-operating and collaborating . . .
Well, we know that children interact, for sure, but do we know how it is they communicate, in all their various, glorious, subtle, complex, overlaid and interlaced formations? They can manifest their many complexities to one another (and to and between them and any playworking-minded adults) in such astute and beautiful, brave and careful intricacies. There are many who can’t, or won’t, see such things because maybe their focusings are fraught or frayed
. . . the phenomenon known as ‘crown shyness’, in which similarly-sized trees of the same species appear to be respecting each other’s space was recognised almost a century ago. Sometimes, instead of interlacing and jostling for light, the branches of immediate neighbours stop short of one another, leaving a polite gap.
Children move: they always seem to be moving, physically, but even when this isn’t so perceptible, they’re still moving, emotionally, psychologically, socially. Children are choreography in action. It’s easy to see when they’re playing ‘tag’, say, spinning towards and away from one another, but we might also consider how there is an emotional, psychological, social choreography in action too. It isn’t the ‘polite gap’ of physical trees or children that I wish to pay attention to here: it is the honour of ‘being a fellow child’ that I see, despite the occasional disagreement. There are small courtesies and allowances paid to one another, which are replete with knowing and feeling what it is in being ‘child’.
If trees can be shy at their branch-tips, more recent research shows they are anything but at their roots. In a forest, the hair-like tips of individual root systems not only overlap, but can interconnect, sometimes directly via natural grafts, but also extensively via networks of underground fungal threads, or mycorrhizae. Through these connections, trees can share water, sugars and other nutrients, and pass chemical and electrical messages to one another.
This is the nub of things. The forest of children is an interconnected affair, below the surface of what the many adults think they see or hear or know. It never ceases to amaze how the smallest particle or packet of information can fizz around the underground, along the root system and its off-shoots, to surface again elsewhere or elsewhen, maybe whole or maybe slightly modified but always passed without adult discernment. Children inhabit a culture, an extensive rhizomatic array, way beneath and beyond the forgotten comprehension of many adults of the local system above the ground.
Canadian biologist Suzanne Simard . . . describes the largest individual trees in a forest as hubs or ‘mother trees’. Mothers have the deepest, most extensive roots, and are able to supplement smaller trees with water and nutrients, allowing saplings to thrive even in heavy shade.
I have seen this mother phenomenon in action, but never really realised it as something akin to the trees until thinking recently. One child, girl or boy, of any age, quietly, humbly sustains those around them, sacrificing something, ignoring something, giving something and walking away. They get on with their own play. We of the playworking-minded adults think we have the monopoly on such actions, and sometimes we do act in these ‘mother tree’ ways, but when we see a child, quietly, come to give an upset other the doll she was playing with, say, walking away then without a word or gesture (or another, sat quietly stroking the hair of her friend in front of her, for reasons we can only guess the depths of), we can realise otherwise.
Scientists have known for more than 40 years that if a tree is attacked by a leaf-eating animal, it releases ethylene gas. On detecting the ethylene, nearby trees prepare to repel boarders — boosting production of chemicals that make their leaves unpalatable, even toxic.
It isn’t beyond the realms of possibility (what do we adults really know?) to suggest that a locale of the forest of children can act in similar ways. An attack on one is a warning to the others, and the others can then seem just as toxic to the attacker looking for more to feed on. I have seen small groups closing ranks. The question remains, though: what, or who, here constitutes the toxic agent?
A sobering aspect of recent revelations is that many of these newly recognised ‘behaviours’ are limited to natural growth. In plantations, there are no mother trees, and there is very little connectivity. This is partly because of the way young trees are transplanted and partly because when they are thinned to prevent competition, what little underground connectivity neighbours have established is severed. Seen in this light, modern forestry practices begin to seem almost monstrous: plantations are not communities but crowds of mute, factory-farmed individuals, felled before they have ever really lived.
This paragraph, to me, is very poignant. I shall leave you to draw your own conclusions of minutiae and wholenesses on it.
For this playworking-minded writer, it suffices to say that we can affect a positivity of nurture, in all manner of circumstances and to some degree, but it’s better if the nature of connectivity isn’t stripped away or trammelled on to start with.
At the risk of confusing the poor search-bots, this post is — part — a duplication of a separate recently published page on this site, being from a file of my online papers as it is. I post the abstract and link here as a means of maximising initial exposure to the writing. First the preamble, however.
In May this year, I attended a gathering of play and playwork people in Cambridge (PlayEd 2018). Discussions and further communications around that time and subsequently, with Gordon Sturrock, resulted in the co-authored paper linked to below. This paper is a synthesis of some aspects of one of Gordon’s prompter conference papers, written communications from the same via ensuing small collective and personal correspondence, and my own reading research, experiential input and writing. As such, the resulting paper is a fusion, a process in keeping with the content.
It is fully anticipated that there will be disagreement with some of that content from within the playwork ‘bubble’; however, there will — I trust — be those who connect with it. Either way, the intention is to open up the discussion on what those of us who call ourselves playworkers do, and how we are.
You can read the paper via the PDF link at the bottom of this post, or you can access all of the text and link content below via the Play Connectivity tab in the header above (or here: Play Connectivity) — that should confuse the search-bots plenty but it does give you plenty of easy access choices!
Playwork’s key claim is its unique manner of working for and with children. It currently suffers, however, from a lack of consensus regarding the benefits of its application. This paper challenges the dilution of playwork practice in acknowledging the art, grace and wisdom in connectivity of playworking. Drawing primarily on Antonio Damasio’s neurobiological analysis, the homeostatic disequilibrium operation at the core of body/neural intra-action is detected as reflected in the interaction of organisms.
In consideration of some key concepts of social ecology – consociation, mutual aid, co-operativity rather than competition, rhizomatic rather than hierarchical structures – and the neurobiological study on individuals’ feelings, emotive responses, affect and culture, this paper discusses the evolving phenomenon of the playworking adult and child at play in terms of a symbiotic being and becoming.
An auditing of symbiotic homeostatic disequilibrium in operation is currently being developed.
Please click below to open a PDF copy of this paper. Please feel free to share, without alteration, and credit appropriately if citing from it. Discussion is embraced and encouraged. Thank you.
Symbiotic Homeostatic Disequilibrium in Playworking Interaction (Oct 2018)