plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

Archive for January, 2013

Advice for playwork glossary writers

‘I wish to register a complaint,’ (as Monty Python had it!) ‘We’re closing for lunch. Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.’ [End quote]. The parrot in this analogy is the glossary of playwork terms as can be found at, for example, the CACHE website. They’re dead; that is, they’re wrong. Well, some of them are at least. Here’s my complaint: as a playwork trainer, how can my learners be expected to learn certain things if the qualification awarding body hasn’t got it right?

You’re forewarned: this post could get a little technical and lengthy. I realise that it could end up being a very niche one, i.e. only for those in the UK for whom playwork qualifications are a concern. So, I intend to widen the scope a little in what I’m about to write; this being: (i) Details of my complaint for that niche readership; (ii) Focus on one particular area of concern (namely, that which playworkers know as ‘the play cycle’, within something known as ‘psycholudics’), which will also serve as an introduction to those not familiar with the concepts; (iii) Brief analysis of aspects related to the play cycle within psycholudics, for playworkers and non-playworkers alike.

So, onto my complaint. The glossary linked to, at the time of writing, on the CACHE site (other awarding bodies are available) states that ‘the [play] cycle includes the metalude, the cue, the return, the frame, adulteration, annihilation and display [sic].’ Where do I start here? I’ve wanted to write a little something on psycholudics for a while now because it crops up regularly in search engine results, as listed on my WordPress dashboard. So, if this is you looking for psycholudics and/or the play cycle, let me just start by saying that the CACHE glossary isn’t accurate.

The best place to go for information on psycholudics will be the source, i.e. the Ludemos site [Please note update at the bottom of this post]. There you’ll find the Colorado Paper (1998), written by Gordon Sturrock and Perry Else. It’s a heavy read, I won’t lie, but it’s an important read. The trouble is, because it can be a bit heavy-going in places, it’s been watered down somewhat in the sector. I’m afraid I shall need to do the same here for the sake of brevity in this post, though I recommend that you also read the real deal (go to Ludemos).

Psycholudics, ‘the study of the mind and psyche at play’, is drawn from the psychoanalytic work of those such as D. W. Winnicott (1896-1971). The play cycle, or the ‘play process’, being part of the paper above, is written in the Ludemos glossary as consisting of:

‘the full exchange of play from the child’s first play cue, the establishment of the play frame, the perceived return from the outside world, the child’s response to the return, and the further development of play to the point where the play is complete and so ended or annihilated.’

So, to my complaint: this authoritative source has morphed into, for example, the CACHE glossary’s version, which I shall repeat again here: ‘the [play] cycle includes the metalude, the cue, the return, the frame, adulteration, annihilation and display [sic].’

The latter is wrong. Playwork learners are being misinformed.

The watering down process, in playwork training, has amounted to the play cycle coming to be known as (and I’ll briefly explain each shortly): metalude, cue, return, frame, flow, annihilation.

Whilst Sturrock and Else themselves haven’t included ‘metalude’ in their own glossary definition of the play cycle, for greater clarity I suspect, they can be forgiven because they wrote it! However, something I’ve just noticed is that on their overview page, they write that ‘play drive’ and ‘metalude’ (see below) amount to the same thing. I wondered where my learners had got this from!

Let’s go back a step. From the Colorado Paper, Sturrock and Else write that the play drive, or ludido (I told you it can be heavy-going in places!), ‘could be precisely seen as the active agency of an evolving consciousness’. OK, so this play drive/ludido then is one of the things that makes us tick: a drive or an urge to play.

Regarding metalude, they say: ‘a part of the play drive or ludido is sustained in a deeply internalised form of fantasy play . . . the source point and beginning of the function of internalised gestalt formation [‘shape’ of play] within the play process.’

Non-playworkers and those new to playwork can, no doubt, already see the difficulties of getting across the complexities of ideas within the Colorado Paper in an accessible and not ‘dumbed-down’ way. I hate dumbing-down. Please don’t take the following in such a way if you’re new to psycholudics:

We generally see the play cycle in terms of: from within the internal drive of the child (metalude); the cue (‘invitation’ to play) from the child in question to other children, or aspects of the environment, or even to adults (so, verbally, sticking out of the tongue, pushing a drawing into someone’s face, etc.); the return of that cue that signifies ‘yes, I’ll play’; the frame, being the psychological boundary to the play (this doesn’t relate to ‘boundary’ as in ‘positive/negative behaviour’); the flow of the play, where children are immersed and the play develops in form; annihilation (which I’ve always thought of as a daft technical word, but it must come from somewhere, and so I must ask Perry about that the next time I see him), which means that the child has got what they need from that particular instance of play, and they move on.

When we know these basics, playworkers and non-playworkers alike can observe children’s play in a new light. So, the child who’s sticking out their tongue at you, or throwing scrap materials all around the room, or banging their plate on the table, can be seen to be issuing play cues instead of being ‘naughty’, ‘rude’, ‘disrespectful’, or any other adult-biased phrase we can think of.

Returning to the CACHE summary: ‘the [play] cycle includes the metalude, the cue, the return, the frame, adulteration, annihilation and display [sic].’

How can every play cycle, every instance of play, include adulteration? What’s this? Let’s go back to source (Ludemos glossary): ‘This occurs when the adult dominates or takes over a child’s play for their own purposes, whether those purposes are conscious (working to, say, educational or safety standards) or unconscious (fear, embarrassment, domination).’

Do children only play when adults are around? That’s like the old favourite: if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no-one to hear it, does it really fall at all? Or something like that. No, of course children don’t just play when adults are around. So how can every incidence of a play cycle include adulteration (adult domination), as the CACHE glossary suggests?

Does every play cycle, every instance of play, include ‘display’ [sic]? I write ‘sic’ because ‘sic erat scriptum’ means ‘thus it was written’: an error. I type it out exactly as written because it’s an error. ‘Display’ is something you see in a shop window, perhaps; ‘dysplay’ (as in the Colorado Paper), from the Ludemos glossary is:

‘When the play cues are laden with anxiety. The urgent, frantic play cues offered by children who are unable to complete the play cycle effectively. Children denied choice will be inhibited in their play, the cycle will be incomplete. The play drive will try to compensate with cues that are more urgent or aberrant, perhaps causing conflict with the environment around the child (these anxious cues are called dysplay).’

‘Display’ and ‘dysplay’ are not the same things: one is a pretty art board full of flowers and dinosaurs with missing fingers, say; the other is a complex concern caused by environmental factors including the direct and indirect affect of adults and their attitudes within the play space.

The CACHE glossary could just include a typo, of course, but I suspect the problem doesn’t lie here. There are other glaring errors, of the ‘copy and paste’ variety, where someone has copied and pasted information, including the spelling error, and this suggests to me that they weren’t really checking or knowing what they were doing. The devil is in the details, after all, and ‘dysplay’ is a detail that needs looking at. (So too is the issue of two play types — fantasy play and imaginative play — routinely being mixed up in the guidance literature because someone, somewhere, didn’t make use of the most appropriate source material). This annoys me no end.

I digress.  Let’s review. Did I meet my aims?

(i) Details of my complaint for that niche [playwork] readership;

(ii) Focus on one particular area of concern (namely, that which playworkers know as ‘the play cycle’, within something known as ‘psycholudics’, which will also serve as an introduction to those not familiar with the concepts;

(iii) Brief analysis of aspects related to the play cycle, for playworkers and non-playworkers alike.

In summary, if complex material such as this needs to be taught (and it does, because the psycholudic understanding offers many new insights into children at play), then the awarding bodies who offer the qualifications (which trainers are expected to make use of/assess by) need to get their information correct.

That means those who do the typing up should ideally know what they’re typing up (kind of like a reflective practice model of ‘plan, do, review’, i.e. ‘copy, paste, review’). Failing that, they should get people in who do know a thing or two about playwork. Those who also have some authority at the tables where these standards are created and reviewed should also spare a thought for the poor learner new to playwork.

I have registered my complaint.


I’m quite willing to accept if anything I’ve written above turns out to be a little off the mark. Just tell me if it is and I’ll amend. I’m pretty confident you’ll find my research to be ‘good enough’ (now, Winnicott might be pleased at the oblique reference!)


CACHE (2011), Playwork glossary [online]. Available from: (Accessed Jan 25, 2013)

Ludemos (1998-2013), Psycholudics: introduction [online]. Available from: (Accessed Jan 25, 2013)

OrangeCow (undated), Dead parrot, as featured in the Flying Circus TV Show Episode 8 [online]. Available from: (Accessed Jan 25, 2013)

Sturrock, G. and Else, P. (1998), The playground as therapeutic space: playwork as healing – the Colorado Paper. IPA/USA: Triennial National Conference

Update (June 2019):

On reviewing this post (because it is a popular one), I found that the links embedded in the main body of text for Ludemos no longer worked and so I have removed these. Ludemos appears to have been taken offline some time ago. Somewhere along the line, also, the originally linked to was shifted to I have amended the reference link accordingly, though I shall still need to research if the original glossary is still a going concern (or, in the spirit of Monty Python, if it has ceased to be!). This all said, this post will still stand: it retains current value in terms of education on psycholudics but also in terms of getting things right by the awarding bodies. Those even longer in the tooth than me know that things cycle around, and this is true also of events and situations in the play sector. Play (or close approximations of it) and educating people about it, will have its day again in the halls of the powers that be.

Until source material can be located and posted here regarding the Ludemos links above, please be patient in this regard.

For those seeking a direct link to the Colorado Paper, please try IPA England: here

Thank you.

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Playing and wellness

In the spirit of professional development, this week I had the opportunity to observe some speech therapists in their work with family children, in support mode to those I went with. This short study, in this manner, gives me a little freedom to write up ‘as it is’.

Whilst I don’t doubt the skills of these two therapists at all (I don’t know enough about the occupation to doubt them anyway), I did find it a little amusing and a little disconcerting that one of them had a lisp! However, to her credit she was able to identify how the child in question was speaking and with which area of the mouth the words were being formed. None of this is in question by me. The reason for writing here today is to pick up on something one of the therapists said at the end of the session, and as related to play.

I knew that the speech therapists would work with play to form their initial assessment of the child. I wanted to know how they did this though. The therapist with the lisp sat the child down so that she was faced away from her mother (who the other therapist was talking with all the time). The child was shown a wooden shape-fitting toy, where the pictures had to be fitted into the correct board holes. The therapist asked the child about the pictures; she made a series of notes on what she heard the child reply, sometimes asking the child to repeat it so that she could be clear about what she heard.

The therapist then moved onto a card game and used a bin shaped like a frog to ‘eat’ the cards. She was quite playful here, but the child’s younger brother was also in the room and he wanted to play too. The therapist ignored him (which I thought strange because there was the opportunity to study speech interactions there, I thought).

The therapists had a standard small crate of various plastic and soft toys which were then put in front of the child to play with as the adults all talked. I suspected that the crate wasn’t often just tipped up the way I tipped it up and spread it around so the children could see what was there. Before I even thought what I was doing, I’d done it!

At the end of the session, and here’s my starting off point for this post, in a way, one of the therapists noted that the allotted forty-five minute appointment was up (to the minute), and told the child — rather suddenly, though gently enough — that it was time to go. The children, to me, clearly hadn’t finished playing — though, of course, I recognised this was a different scenario in play to what I’m used to. Even so, I still felt a small wave of something like ‘but I haven’t finished yet’ come from them. The therapist offered a sticker for ‘playing well’.

Here we go: I can’t get my playworker head around this adult phrase. What does ‘playing well’ mean? How can we put a qualitative statement onto somebody else’s play (or onto any play)? If there is such a thing as ‘playing well’, is there also such a thing as ‘playing poorly’? If that’s the case, then there’s also such a thing as every other possible statement in between. I played 73.6% well today, but tomorrow I hope to improve.

OK, so I recognise that ‘playing well’ is, on the one hand, just one of those adult phrases that aren’t said in a literal manner; however, the problem is that a lot of the time the literal sense has attached itself to such throw-away remarks. I’ve heard many people (whether they work with children or not) talk about how children should ‘play well’, by which they presumably mean ‘play agreeably’. Playing ‘agreeably’ might well be agreeable for the adult . . .

‘Playing well’ also makes me think of Victorian sensibilities towards children: that they should be seen and not heard.

Perhaps we could shift the sensibilities of a lot of modern adults by asking them to think about ‘playing well’ differently: rather than being all about how adults want children to be, which leads to adult perceptions of children as currently being noisy, aggressive, rude or disrespectful creatures, ‘playing well’ should be a statement of emotional and psychological health. The child is ‘the playing well’. The child is play-well.

The child can only really be play-well though if the adults (those who work with children, like playworkers and speech therapists; those who are parents; those who don’t work with them; that is, all of us) understand about words.

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