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

‘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.

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


Comments on: "Advice for playwork glossary writers" (4)

  1. Hiya Joel

    A great piece here..I found myself thinking alot as I read through it. Surely adulteration would appear in all observed play cycles, because although being difficult to jot down to you. For me by being in the play space with children we are adulterating their play even just in a mnior way. THe question i have back is that does a cycle of play only happen when their is a playworker around to reconise it happening?

    Look forward to your response…

    • Hi Vicky

      Thanks for reading and commenting so quickly on this. Of course, your questions are up there at that level because you’ve been around this sort of thinking for a while now. So, yes, good point that maybe observation itself could be seen as an intrusion (as Bob Hughes talks about the quantum nature of play, and as I understand it, relates the observed particle (child) necessarily being altered by the observing instrument (adult), there’s something to be said for this). However, the glossary I talk about isn’t at this level of thinking. We can see this because of the whole ‘display/dysplay’ example.

      Does a cycle of play only happen when there’s a playworker around to recognise it happening? Well, I think that was where I was going with the ‘if a tree falls in the forest’ thing. Of course it happens when there are no adults around, though we could stray into phenomenology (a personal favourite of mine!) and the study of experience. If we start thinking this way, then the philosophy will start to take over the psycholudic interpretation (as philosophy tends to do in such situations). Your point though, as I read it, is in the ‘recognition’, the labelling. Taking that one stage further and by (il)logical extension, does play only happen when someone else observes it, labels it as such? Just because we may not have a label (the child won’t know about the play cycle, but will know that they’re playing, on their own possibly), it doesn’t follow that what is taking place (play/play cycle) isn’t taking place.

      I’m tying myself in knots. 🙂 I’m going for a lie down!

  2. Hi Joel,
    I enjoyed reading this. (Even the technical bits!!) I guess I’m lucky to work with my learners through EDI & they have been a little more careful with the content. This is probably due to the fact that Meynell & Ali Wood are the EV’s & boy is Ali hard! She makes doubly sure the learners have absolutely the right information & meet the standards to the letter!
    On the Adulteration front, surely we have to teach it because our playworkers are only going to be seeing play in the context of their job roles. With this in mind, I spend much longer on Adulteration & intervention than maybe I should because I stress again & again about playworkers imposing their own agenda, fears, phobias, experiences on the play they witness. I make them do a minimum of 15 observations, link them to the play cycle & play types & complete the 3 questions in detail, often asking them to expand on the appropriateness or otherwise of the adult interventions, examine their own feelings & the actions of other playworkers. I also ask them to complete a diary or journal, which they suss fairly soon isn’t a requirement of the standards, but by the time they realise this the journal has become so central to their practice that they can’t live without it! They hate me at the end when I tell them they actually only need 1 observation for the portfolio, but they have to agree they have got the message. I guess what I’m saying is, when playworking isn’t Adulteration the one part of the process that playworkers need to really understand? Isn’t it fairly central to their role to know when to intervene & how those interventions could change or affect the whole play process?
    Children, of course do not only play when adults are around & therefore adulteration may not feature in the cycle in these instances, but those adults who work to facilitate play really need to understand adulteration surely?
    Thanks for giving us something to really ponder on & debate!!!!!

    • Hi Tracey. Thanks for your reply. It’s taken me a couple of days to reply to you because I wanted to let what you’d written settle, so as to allow some thought on my part! What I was trying to do with this post was address several things at once: of course there’s the core argument that the playwork glossary needs looking at, but I’m also aware that I have a fairly diverse readership here now. I have playwork people, parents who aren’t playworkers, and a variety of other people who subscribe or come by. So, an opportunity to talk play cycle indeed!

      I’ll come back to your first points a little later on. Regarding adulteration of children’s play: absolutely we need to be teaching it, I agree. It’s fundamental that people who are looking to call themselves playworkers understand what affect they might be having on the children (sometimes with best intentions, though often ending up by just getting in the way or, as I’ve been told myself once or twice, ‘ruining it!’) That said, the analytic third aspect of the Colorado Paper intrigues me. Alongside this is the idea of the mutually developed gestalt between playing child and attendant adult. This is not information I feel learners new to playwork are ready to take on (and, though it’s clear enough in my head, actually teaching that would be a challenge, perhaps).

      Now, it seems that you’re a hard taskmaster yourself, what with all the observations and journals, etc.! For what it’s worth, I’m with you on that one. I don’t know about you, but I find that there’s a certain period of time that elapses between any given learner observing methodically, as they may be used to, and a natural absorption of what’s going on around them. I don’t know if it’s something that can be taught, necessarily.

      Lastly then, back to your first points. I’ve done some EDI-based training myself (though I’m CACHE now), and I have a copy of their draft 2011 support pack. I don’t know if this is still current though. Of course, I needed to scroll through it to see what the EDI glossary says! In the version I’ve got, the errors are there too. So (p.159 of that draft pack) offers:

      Play cycle
      The full flow of play from the first play cue from the child, its return from the outside world, the child’s response to the return and the further development of play to the point where play is complete. The cycle includes the metalude, the cue, the return, the frame, adulteration, annihilation and display [sic].

      Also, regarding intervention styles (p. 158):

      . . . only organising when children and young people want you too [sic].

      This is the ‘copy and paste’ error that’s most prevalent in various forms: in the standards, as well as in other literature I’ve seen, copied directly from Hughes’ ‘First Claim’ (2001, p.30), including the spelling error in that book!

      This isn’t just me being pedantic: as those who know me well often hear me say (you know who you are if you’re reading here!), this just shows a basic lack of attention to detail (it’s at this point that I open myself up to pedants like me combing through my own words for errors!) Anyway, what I’m saying here in this post is that these errors aren’t just simple mistakes: they’re unthought-out material, as it were.

      I’ve been told that we can live with the spelling errors when I’ve pointed this sort of thing out before. Well, OK, but that’s just looking at the surface level though. Errors in explaining concepts are, I think, inexcusable.

      I haven’t got the latest EDI glossary/’explanation and examples of terms’ to hand, so I’d be interested to know if the errors are still there in the most up to date EDI information. I haven’t checked C&G yet. Another day! 🙂

      Good to hear from you. Your comment and feedback is always welcome here.


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