Where do you start on a new blog? In the middle. Jump right in, I guess. So, to get things kick-started, there follows a version of a posting I made recently on the Playwork Bloggers Network forum. Morgan Leichter-Saxby asked: Do adult-structured activities have a place in playwork?
This throws up the question of children’s freely chosen play.
I’ve done a fair amount of thinking on ‘freely chosen’ over the last couple of days. Sure, ‘freely chosen’ is the pink and fluffy ideal, but last time I looked we don’t live in Utopia. We do live in reality. There’s an argument to say that we can always strive for the best situation/deal/quality in anything though (as opposed to the Homer Simpson school of thinking: trying is the first step towards failure!)
Recently [in the PBN forum], I wrote: The question asked must depend on what this thing called ‘structure’ is.
Vicky Edwards wrote: Would you agree it’s more of a case of the children not knowing how to play how the adult wants/thinks they should play?
Suzanna Law wrote: Sometimes it’s not all that simple. And ‘structured play’ might fall into this category.
Morgan wrote about: Adults having an ideal form of play that they expect to see, and then viewing children’s other choices as somehow deficient.
I’m reminded of Gordon [Sturrock] and Perry [Else]’s writing in the Colorado Paper (1998), where they make reference to Heidegger’s thinking on freedom not being limitless but contained. Now, this is easily misinterpretable. As I understand it, in the context of what’s written in that paper, by developing our own frameworks, containers, boundaries, ‘structures’, call it what you will, we can engage in freedom within the boundedness of our play ideas. It is the play idea of the player. It is not an imposed structure. The child at play creates the play frame and the playworker can help to preserve the meaning of this frame. The child has choices and freedom to manoeuvre in that engagement. Perhaps the playworker’s containment is a form of ‘structure’ in itself, but it’s a holding of the frame created by the child. It’s not imposed, the child’s frame ‘shape’ is negotiable by way of play.
Digging it out: ‘Containment,’ write Sturrock and Else, ‘. . . has been taken to an extreme in playcare with content and programme provided by the adult.’
So, this makes sense to me. ‘Structure’ isn’t a simple concept. Sometimes children will want, and do often enjoy, adult-devised things to do (activities). That said, there’s also an argument to say that children operate only in the realms of what they already know or are accustomed to. ‘Consult’ with children about what food/activities they’d like and, often, they’ll tell you about what they’ve had/done that day, or last week, rather than what’s outside their experience base. So, if children are only offered ‘structured’ or imposed activities, they’re not going to know what creating their own frameworks of freedom feels like.
And sure, children will sometimes engage in play in return for some extrinsically motivated reward (call it bribery!) Done too often though and a negative Pavlovian stimulus-response loop gets set up. That said, we should give consideration to the concept of ‘free will’ (not in the theological sense, but philosophically).
OK, distilling all of this down, where I’m going with all this is that children ought really to be deciding their play, of course, and if they want to use the clay to make pots and dragons and nests and stuff, fair enough; however, adult structured ‘now today we’re doing clay or football or drawing, that’s it, choose’ is about the adults’ needs for structure for the sake of it, order, control, dominance, a quiet time, outcomes, the playcare brand, etc etc.
I should write my own blog!
[Here it is!]