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. 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.’ It’s the daydreaming before the visible signs of play can be seen, in other words.

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: the daydreaming/thinking 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 and/or physical 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, copied and pasted the wrong examples from the 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.
 
Caveat:

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!)
 
References:

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

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

OrangeCow (undated), Dead parrot, as featured in the Flying Circus TV Show Episode 8 [online]. Available from: www.orangecow.org (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
 
 

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A snow day means a play day!

It’s a snow day! This week’s blog was gearing up to be something along the lines of responding to Conservative propaganda posted through my door about how teenagers need to be moved on, or it was going to be something to do with male playworkers and children at play, or it was going to be . . . but it’s a snow day! We have to write about snow if we’re writing about play.

Here in the UK, or in my part of it at least, we don’t get a huge amount of snow. It’s always something special. Yes, I know some of you out there hate the stuff, but I can’t understand why. When it snows here, and especially the way it’s been snowing all day today, it’s a big deal. We’re really not very good in the UK when it comes to our infrastructure coping: our airports shut down, roads grind to a halt, schools shut down, etc. That, though, is all good for play.

I had to go out in it. I went for a walk and was suddenly aware how quiet it was out there: very little traffic, no planes going overhead (I live on the flight path to a provincial airport); just the sound of crunching snow underfoot and the occasional sound of distant children. The sky was a deep milky grey. When it snows here, in this place, it reminds me of a city thrown back a few hundred years. I say that in a good sense.

Over the hill and round a corner and this was what I saw:

Sledging

In the same way that snow blurs the physical boundaries of road and path, so too does it blur the boundaries between adult play/child play. It’s all white, it’s all snow on the ground; it’s all play on the hill.

Later, I overheard two boys talking. They were about ten, I guess. One boy asked the other: ‘When was the last time we had a snow day like this?’ There was a pause. ‘Dunno,’ said the other boy. ‘Five years?’

The first boy went on: ‘Do you remember that snow day we had and I was just crying . . .?’ I don’t quite know what to make of this, but I like to interpret it in the positive.

When we go out in the snow, why do we go out in the snow? Only a few brave or not so forward thinking people go out in their cars. I don’t know why they bother to do this in this country. In Canada, or other places used to the wet cold fluffy stuff, they have chains for their tyres; they have four-wheel drives; they wear anoraks with duvets stitched inside them, and boots made of whole mooses or the like. We go out armed only with a small torch packed into our two-wheel drives, and a bloody-minded sort of blind hope that things will be OK. We end up sitting on the motorway, shivering, and wondering if we’ll ever get home. Yes, I’ve done this too.

I saw a car fish-tailing around on a steep hill. The driver eventually got out and proclaimed to everyone around her that she was stuck, and how was she to get home? I told her that even with the ‘three or four strong men’ she was hoping to materialise out of thin air, they weren’t going to be able to push her up the hill. ‘Why don’t you turn around and leave the [two-wheel drive] car at the bottom of the hill, park up?’ I asked (helpfully, I thought). ‘But how will I get home?’ she said. Walking the thousand yards or so up the hill wasn’t, apparently, an option.

A lot of us seem stuck in the 21st century. Sure, we appreciate our convenient lifestyles, but we forget that one weather event can change things for us. More of us, however, perhaps, have a deep set sense that ‘living the way we used to live’ feels good. Maybe it’s just me, but walking around not hearing the sound of cars or planes, and seeing empty streets, felt odd and calming in this hectic usual century we wade through.

Empty roads

There’s something to be said for the old-times. Play and life and emotions and weather all mix up somehow, sometimes. At the sledging hill:

Old time pram

Back then, back when, back in the black and white days, when we had seasons and we knew what they were really for, there was something odd: there was a gap that we’ve filled now with the dreaded ‘health and safety’. I’m not the first or the last to commentate on this when it comes to snow. I was scanning the school closures list online at stupid o’clock this morning (I had a meeting at a school planned in). My school wasn’t closed (though I have a two-wheel drive car, so I cancelled anyway!) The school closures list is a litany of health and safety ‘covering ourselves’. Schools claim that their grounds are too icy or too dangerous or that approaches to the school are too hazardous. On my walk I saw upwards of a hundred children and adults playing in various places. One child fell off a sledge, picked herself up again, and went back up the hill. That was it. You can draw your own conclusions.

As well as the (adult) players apparently shelving thoughts on ingrained ‘health and safety’ for the duration of — and whilst deeply into — play, another curious thought struck me. Here’s the set-up observation: I saw this group of teenagers (there were five in total, some are down the alley), playing just off the High Street:

Teenager play

They’d been laughing around in the main pedestrian area, rolling snowballs, lobbing them over at some guy who’d come out of the shop opposite and who was lobbing them back. The snowballs were being thrown quite hard and over the tops of the heads of passers-by. The group then ran off, one with a huge snowball, to the alley fifty yards or so away. This got my attention, so I stayed to observe. Two of the group were at the far end with plastic snow shovels and they were ‘batting’ the snowballs aimed at them back. They threw some themselves, and the snowballs overshot the target sometimes and skidded across the High Street.

Here’s the strange thing: not a single person stopped, complained, threw disparaging stares, seemed bothered at all. Ordinarily, I suspect, without snow, this group of lads would not have been tolerated for their play.

So, I come full circle. This post was going to be something along the lines of responding to Conservative propaganda pushed through my door about how ‘anti-social behaviour’ needs to be addressed at our local shops, and how the teenagers need to be ‘encouraged to move on’: to do this the local councillors plan to install ‘triangular coping stones on top of the wall to make sitting there uncomfortable’. Right. Like that’s going to work!

How about installing a snow machine? The group won’t necessarily move on, but at least there’ll be play, and maybe everyone can then just chill out and be just a little bit less ‘21st century wound up’ about things!
 
 

Playing and wellness

In the spirit of professional development, this week I had the opportunity to observe some speech therapists in their work with children. I say ‘in the spirit of’ because they themselves didn’t know that I was studying them — I was in support mode to those I went with. This short study, in this manner, gives me a little more 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.
 
 

Understanding behaviours (the children’s and your own)

A new year, and this year will be the year when children’s behaviours will be universally understood. Well, OK, maybe that’s a little ambitious. We should start the year off by thinking small. I’ve spent the best part of this week thinking on the subject of behaviours, discussing it with various people, swapping emails, and being around children — one of whom acted in some quite challenging ways.

Thinking small doesn’t mean ‘thinking narrowly’. By ‘thinking small’ I mean thinking about our own understanding of children’s behaviours. Everyone could benefit by giving this area of thinking some consideration. When I write the word ‘behaviours’, I do it deliberately: in the plural rather than in the singular. The word ‘behaviour’ is far too easily linked with a negative socialisation way of thinking, or with other adult agendas of how children are expected to act and interact and be. Behaviours, plural, is a way of saying that children experience lots of ways of being.

Thinking small, thinking locally, thinking about my own practice and interactions with children, I know that — however I am on any given day — that is likely to affect the children around me in some way. Here’s the bottom line: if I’m in a room where there are also children present, I’m going to affect them.

Positively, if I’m true to my word and my teaching, and the children know that I am that guy who practises what he preaches, then anything can happen. ‘Stuff’ will get played with because it’s stuff and because it’s playable with. Spaces can be played in, ways of playing can be explored, etc.

Negatively, if I forget to ‘walk the walk’, if I lose focus, if I’m not true and honest to what I talk about, then children will react to that; they’ll interact back with me in challenging ways. Those of us who have worked with children for any length of time can all relate stories about when we were or weren’t ‘on the ball’. I can certainly offer up times when, for one reason or another, I have affected the children and their play. There have been some very challenging times.

I worked with a group of children who were, in retrospect, not ready for the idea of playing their own way. I felt it at the time, and now with a little distance I still feel it, but their experiences of adults imposing on their play had had a lot to do with how those children interacted with each other, and with me, and with other adults in their play space. We, the adults, weren’t all thinking in a playwork way about the children around us. The children deserved a better deal. Adults had damaged, and were continuing to damage, their play.

I have observed similar situations take place in other ways, in other children’s play settings. The common denominator is the way that the adults treated the children.

Sometimes those adults thought that their intentions were noble enough: they said that children should act this way, or that way, behave like this or like that, because those were the rules that had been set down for everybody. Those adults didn’t see that ‘the rules’ didn’t fit the reality, didn’t suit the children, didn’t work because the children couldn’t or wouldn’t be squeezed into them like plasticine into tubes.

Sometimes the adults insisted that they knew best when it came to children’s play. Sure, adults can often have a keen eye (too keen sometimes) on matters of ‘health and safety’, but ‘health and safety’ is just a by-word now, a phrase, used when people refuse to think in a common sense way for themselves. Blame it on health and safety. No-one wants a child to get hurt, of course, but better a broken bone than a broken spirit and all that.

Sometimes the adults insisted that their idea of interacting was the best way for the children. Regular readers of this blog (and others I talk with) will know of my dislike for the phrase ‘play nicely’. Sometimes, sure, children get a kick out of playing with others, but if little Johnny does not want to share his stuff with little Susie then ‘playing nicely’ is not top of his agenda. He’s acting (I’m not writing ‘behaving’ there deliberately) in a way that he needs to act right there and then. If Susie tells him to ‘just fuck off’, tomorrow, then frankly, Johnny had it coming.

Sometimes adults have frowned upon children for the things they do and say. ‘You can’t say that. That’s not nice. That’s not polite.’ Then they’ve laughed and joked when the last child has left the place, telling each other: ‘Shit, little Johnny was a fucking nightmare today, wasn’t he?’

Here’s the thing, adults: you can be part of the problem. The other day, I was part of the problem. The children I was with played with ‘stuff’ (to the uninitiated, I’m talking about cardboard boxes, tubes, old buckets, scraps of material, etc.), and generally just got on with things. I was in the room, but all seemed well. Then one of the children needed the toilet and didn’t get there in time. OK, no problem, but the moment of play had shifted into the child’s anxiety over clothes. I became increasingly frustrated with the way he showed his anxiety and this, in turn, affected him. I tell you this because it happens: adults can get frustrated. My affect on the children had shifted from positive to something more negative.

Playworkers affect children. Teachers affect children. Nursery nurses affect children. Parents affect children. Let’s face it, we all affect children. How much better could it be for children if we adults just took a step back sometimes, considered how we affect the children around us, and did something about it? When I realised how I had affected that child this week, our frustrations at one another growing steadily, I took a mental step back. I changed my course. I said ‘fine’. The child came up with a solution to his anxiety, I accepted it, and we moved on. Play happened again.

I tell you all of this because we are all potential affectors of children. We affect their behaviours. I wonder what you insist upon — with the children around you — that makes those children act in the ways that they do sometimes. Do you realise how much you affect those children?
 
 

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