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

Archive for February, 2013

About the very now

There is no time. There’s only now. Even now’s gone before we know it. So, there’s only very now. Every moment is absolutely unique, absolutely itself and special and new and weird; every moment is not any moment, it’s this moment. Then it’s gone, somewhere. We don’t always see the moments. I’ve been here before in my writing, but it’s worth revisiting because the subject of ‘time’ gets the better of all of us occasionally.

It’s difficult to write about ‘no time’ because words about time will creep in: ‘occasionally’, ‘sometimes’, ‘often’, ‘then’, ‘when’, ‘now’. So, I’m thinking and talking about ‘very now’ because this is the only phrase I can think of that comes anywhere near to describing ‘just right here and now . . .’ Yet, even before I finish the sentence, the ‘very now’ has, apparently, gone.

Children’s play, and any play, is very now. So, at last we have a context to this rambling. ‘At last’ we have a context. What happened before the Big Bang? Yes, I know, I know: Hawking and others (notably one annoyed brother!) would repeatedly sigh out loud at my question. Yes, in theory I know that nothing happened before the Big Bang because there was no time until the Big Bang, but really, honestly, I don’t get that at all. What happened before play?

This post is already going off in a direction I hadn’t considered or planned for. ‘Already’.  Step back: children’s play is very now. It has taken place today, yesterday, last week, last year, and it will happen next year, but whenever it takes place it’s very now . . . and then it’s something else. I want to step back a little further, to illustrate where I’m going, and then I’ll tell you the moral of my stories. Take a leap of faith here and follow me:

It’s 1976: that really hot summer which has passed into folklore here in the UK. It’s summer in my memory all that year. The school holidays stretch out around me in all directions. I’m not indoors at all, and one day blurs into the heat haze of the next. It’s just all pale blue, you know?

It’s 1984: Orwell’s future schemes don’t come to pass, and I find myself doing the ‘geeky and awkward at the disco’ thing! I’m hopeless in my adolescent play, but it’s the Eighties and I’m none the wiser just because Crockett and Tubbs, George Michael and Phil Oakley are advising me. I fall in love, approximately, and I get slapped and I make the same mistakes on a loop!

It’s 1989: I spend the whole year just in play. I pretend to go to University, but really I’m just being an artist, drinking beer, pretending to be an artist, falling in love, approximately, travelling, getting caught up in it all and being on my loop the loop.

It’s 1992: I spend the whole year in 1989, but in different permutations.

It’s 1996 or 1997 or sometime (‘sometime’) but it doesn’t matter: it’s when we sit in cafés being pretentious, attending poetry readings — bad poetry, so bad it’s good and notable and we announce Terry the Poet as our guru! — we travel back to Paris, pretentiously, but we know we do it and we turn it into irony, we write songs, record, start the ‘quite quiet revolution’, fall in rough approximations of love, loop and loop.

It’s 2005: I come home after (‘after’) my long sojourn away in various artistic endeavours, various places of children’s play away from home, I play with being home after time away (‘time’), I realise my own play has shifted and my love is richer, different, a love for now.

It’s 2013: I sit with a two year old who looks up at me for a second or so (‘second or so’), laughs and then wipes his snot over my jumper; I come into the room and a nearly four year old is ridiculously happy to see me and she jumps about just not getting her words out; I walk with a three year old through the busy High Street and we talk rubbish at each other! I’m in play, and I loop and I loop.

I’m here now: here I am. The now has already passed. The very now is the only way I can try to describe these moments of now: moments which are both singular spots in time and stretches of things that happen, each blurring into the heat haze of the next, looping and looping.

I promised you a moral to the story. It’s here: will you see the play of the very now with me? Will you leave thoughts of ‘play is good for the future development’, ‘play is an education for the future’, ‘play is learning so that the future will be better’? See the very small, the very now, and give it your love and attention. The very small and very now is often overlooked; yet the very small, the very now, threads through time. It’s no time, and in this no time we are made of moments.
Post script:

There is no time. There is only now. There is only very now. Very now disperses as soon as very now appears. Very now is every now, though every now is different. Very now is in all time, though there is no time. There is only now . . . (ad infinitum).


Uncommon sense

It was during a recent long and sprawling conversation with Rich Driffield at White City Adventure Playground that the term ‘uncommon sense’ came back to me about the things we were talking about. I say ‘came back to me’ because I don’t claim ownership of that term, of course (a quick Google search shows up a 1945 science fiction short story, a different 2004 book of the same name, and other web material). In the context of the conversation I was having about children’s play though, I was sure I’d heard or read the phrase ‘uncommon sense’ in playwork circles somewhere before.

I still don’t know that source. It doesn’t so much matter. Rich and I were talking around ideas on playwork ideology, the necessity to please many people in many quarters to ultimately create a better deal for the children, children’s risky play, how we feel about that, and this thing we often refer to as ‘common sense’.

Common sense though is just that: common. It’s the pop-culture perspective; it’s the fashionable, the usual, the ‘play it by the book’. So, it’s ‘common sense’ to stop children climbing on things, moving quickly without safety gear, exploring sharp or hot things. Everybody knows the consequences of falling, of insufficient padding, of touching sharp or hot things: it’s common knowledge. This is the problem though: everybody knows the received wisdom of what they’ve been told. They absorb that knowledge without question: children will fall and hurt themselves at height; children will fall and hurt themselves, at speed, without safety gear; children will hurt themselves on sharp and hot things.

It’s ‘uncommon sense’ that we should have. Uncommon sense tells us to question the playwork literature, perhaps; or to trust the child at height, or at speed, or in exploring objects; to know when to stay clear or when to be right there. Uncommon sense is not the ‘play it by the book’ mentality, or the ‘learned from the pages of the playwork literature’ thinking, or the ‘understood by rote learning’ approach. It’s not the pop-culture, fashionable, usual way of things.

So, when children are waving their sticks or pool cues around, uncommon sense tells us that this is a dance, or that this space is not appreciated by the child in their dance, or by the child outside that dance. When children are climbing, uncommon sense tells us that this child is weighing it all up, is alert or not, is worried or excited or reckless. When children are flying around, seven feet off the ground on narrow platforms, over wobbly bridges, narrowly missing one another, not slipping off and under the single chain link barrier, uncommon sense tells us that these children are like bats using sonar to navigate!

I told the story a couple of times this week about how, last week on the playground, I sat observing quietly and saw, suddenly, that a child was waving an axe around. It wasn’t common sense that made me jump up and remove the axe; it was uncommon sense. Common sense tells us that children and axes (just like children and fire, or children and power drills, or children and the tops of trees) don’t mix; uncommon sense tells us that this child may well have known how to chop wood, but that he was in a state of play, that he didn’t fully appreciate the unintended harm he could have done because he wasn’t focused on that.

When the children were tumbling around playfighting, and when that playfighting was on the very edge of all of our adult comfort levels, uncommon sense told me that (give or take twenty seconds), here was the tipping point coming. Be ready, but even then be wary that maybe things won’t need an adult input. Common sense wouldn’t have ‘let’ the children playfight in the first place. Common sense, if distracted and coming into realising that playfighting was going on, would have stopped it as soon as it had been seen. Common sense, you see, understands that children might get hurt if they playfight.

In many ways, perhaps, playwork is uncommon sense in itself (despite some areas of the literature being questioned in some quarters). Common sense is just what everybody else has: the common, majority approach. Playwork takes the uncommon, path least trodden, view.

White City stories: part 14

Continuing the stories from my recent after school sessions playworking week at White City Adventure Playground, London.
Come down at the end of the week

Friday is much calmer than ‘Mad Thursday’. Before the children arrive we think more on the space. The boxes are piled away (perhaps they were a catalyst for some of yesterday’s wild play), as are the plastic grass strips which the children use as a kind of playfighting arena. We’ve cleared out the room where the art stuff is kept, ready for some units to go in next week, and we’ve left an old metal storage cabinet in the main room — not specifically as a play object, just out of the way. Hassan chops wood in preparation for the possibility of a fire. When the children come they seem calmer. Maybe it’s the group dynamic, maybe it’s the way the space is today. I don’t know.

There’s some chase play going on. M. (a boy, not M. the Catholic girl!) immediately finds the plank that Rich has left on the tyres. M. takes it away and soon enough he’s trying to bang it into a wooden post with a hammer and a long screw he’s found. I go bring him some long nails, which he accepts. He finds it difficult to get through the wood still though. After a while he tells me, ‘I’ve had enough of that now.’

Inside, the children have found the metal cabinet and they climb in two at a time. Others shut the door. Others bang on top of it by climbing up onto another smaller cabinet. This play goes on and around for quite a while. I’m walking in and out, and every time I come in there’s a group of children doing this: this is an accidental play resource.

Hassan brings some mod-roc out and some of the children get into this. Others are keen on using the computers. Later Rich starts off a small fire in the mud area of the planters outside. He doesn’t call out for children to come over. One or two take note and come over when they want to. He stands back. Others come and go.

Fire play I

Fire play II
There’s no playfighting that I can see today, though M. and J. have a conversation, whilst banging the plank into the post, about yesterday: ‘Do you remember that fighting yesterday?’; ‘Yeh, it was brilliant.’ Little fish A. is playing football with me and Ja. and another child. A. moans to me that Ja. has pushed him as they go in for a tackle together. I tell A. that football’s a contact sport and he should man up. Later, as I’m poking around at the fire, I find it amusing as I hear Ja. tell A. during more football: ‘Hey, A., just like Joel said, man up!’

The chase play is a constant play theme of the week. The children make up ‘time outs’ and the standard ‘homey’ is the roundabout. I hear them say, behind me when I’m far enough away in the chase don’t catch, ‘OK, time in.’ Six or seven children pile onto homey and I spin them, as I did the other day (a day where we talked at the roundabout about going so fast they might throw up). I tell them it’s ‘puke day’ but I can’t spin them fast at all. One of the older girls says ‘it’s rubbish’, but she says it playfully.
In conclusion

In concluding the stories of my latest week at the playground, in these after school sessions: sure, this is different in some ways to the open access holidays, but there are still a lot of positives that can be drawn from the way things are here. Children come in straight from school and there are always going to be transitions from one environment to another for them to go through. The children are free to play though.

There’s no rigid structure that could oppress the children or contribute to a build-up of stress (as I’ve seen in many other after school facilities). There are stressful times here, for the adults and for the children alike, just as there may be at many other after school places; however, for the most part, the children’s use of the space suggests that this is their space and maybe we adults have to find coping strategies.

There are pockets of ‘things to do’ but these are very far from rigid adult-led ‘activities’: children come and go or ignore as they see fit. Food time, similarly, isn’t a specific rigid arrangement. Food comes out and children get it or make it when they’re ready. Playworkers remind children that it’s available. Children eat it where they like. It’s all a lot more stress-free this way.

At the end of the week, we’re tired though. If anyone thinks this work is easy, perhaps they’re not doing it right! There are some challenging aspects to some of the children’s play — though ‘challenging’ is, of course, a subjective term, individual to each adult. I was challenged by not knowing some of the children’s abilities and sensibilities with, for example, use of a power drill, playfighting spilling over into aggression, etc. My colleagues had other challenges like observing multiple playfight play frames, children banging on the metal cabinet, some children’s antagonisms of others.

We talked about these things, as colleagues, before, during and after the session, informally. The children have fluid arrangements of issues with one another, sometimes with staff, sometimes with school escorts or with school staff. This, I think, is to be expected in environments where many people are jammed together. The key to working with children in this playwork way is, perhaps, listening, accepting our own feelings, accepting the children for who they are on any given day, and knowing that — whatever day today has been, excellent or challenging — tomorrow is another day.
February at White City APG

White City stories: part 13

Continuing the stories from my recent after school sessions playworking week at White City Adventure Playground, London.
Mad Thursday

Rich tells me that Thursdays can be a little hectic. It’s the group dynamics and the presence of certain individuals, no doubt. There seems to be a high level of energy today as soon as they start to come into the building from their various schools. The doors are open to the playground but a lot of the children choose to kick around inside to start with. All the boxes are out (when a new box arrives during the day, from food deliveries or the like, it gets emptied and thrown on the pile). It’s not long before the boxes are getting trashed by the children though. Some children are stamping on them and waving them around. Some children are throwing them and tearing polystyrene chunks apart. We usher these children outside, scooping up armfuls of boxes as we go. I figure that that destructive play will be better suited out there. Somehow, and initially, there’s less adult anxiety (or maybe it’s just me) with this sort of play in the relatively uncontained space outside. The boys run around with the boxes, using them to crash into on the slide and as shields and fighting instruments.

Inside, two girls are waving pool cues around in a wide arc. It’s not aimless; rather it’s a sort of playfight without touching. There’s an edginess building in the whole group. One of the boys seems to be in the middle of all the playfighting. I’m watching, watching all the time because I think this could spill over anywhere at any time. Soon there’s plenty of playfighting going on all over the playground.

Two of the boys are fine, I think, because M. is on top of J. but he seems to be self-regulating his strength, and J. isn’t angry — he even seems to be happy with being set upon; A. and C. are younger and smaller, close friends, darting in and out and teasing others: little fish nibbling at the sharks. Here’s Ja. (I use this abbreviation because Ja. is central to pretty much everything today!) Ja. snaps a few times and it’s not easy to be certain if his play is play or if it’s aggression, at times, and whether to intervene or not. The playfighting tumbles around the playground and I find I’m positioning myself far enough away so as not to be intrusive, close enough just in case, and able to see in three or four directions at once, to see all the pockets building up.

Where possible, the staff swap around. I’m always on my feet, except for one two-minute spell, earlier, where I grab a plate of pasta and sit down on the wooden rocking contraption, outside on this cold February afternoon, wrapped up in coat, scarf, hat, gloves, to eat and observe over the playground: Hassan is with a group of children on the football court; one or two children are occupied on the playground; others are inside. I feel in the moment in my playwork practice.

The playfighting bubbles on. Some children get clattered, some get angry, some keep teasing. Once or twice we have to step in, calm things: the edginess, the very edge, the good edge, has spilled over. Some girls are inside in the room where all the art stuff is kept. They’re hyper too! They’ve found the lumps of clay we left out (not an ‘activity’ as such, just things to find and do with). I’m moving indoors (always moving, always on my feet on one of my sweeps round. I see the girls throwing the clay around and they say straight away that Hassan said they could. I’ve got know way of knowing what was said or what wasn’t: either way, the girls are enjoying their play and I know, right here and now, that no harm’s being done. It’s an instant appraisal of the situation. Similarly, when M. (one of the girls) stands on a chair, on the edge of it, and two other girls stand up on the table to try to stick clay to the ceiling, I suggest they maybe ought to get down. It’s not because I have a problem with the play, as such; it’s because the dynamic in-the-moment risk assessment in my head is telling me that these girls are hyper, dancing around, and they may only get more hyper and may not be able to see the slip hazard of the plastic sheeting on the table. (Perhaps, for similar reasons, I would also have suggested getting down if there were no sheeting — I was focused on their mood and actions. I don’t know!)

All this happens in a moment; the same moment, co-incidentally, as Rich tapping on the window from outside. Maybe he hasn’t seen me at first, but a mutual independent understanding that ‘this is the time’ seems to happen (as it does outside when we observe some playfighting, talking about edginess possibly overspilling and if/when to intervene, and both deciding at the same time that ‘this is the time’).

Later, I pass back near the room where the girls are playing and overhear M. talking with a boy. All the children in there are playing with the clay at the table and M. is saying to him, ‘It’s a good job I’m a Catholic or I’d mess you up!’ (by which she means she’d physically hurt him — though it’s a playful conversation!) I don’t go in the room. Later still, I see M. using the broom in a brief weapon-play way, a way without touching, and I don’t see who she speaks to (it happens so quickly, maybe there is no-one else) but she says, ‘I’m gonna fuck you up!’, again playfully, which also amuses me!

Ja. is playfighting on the plastic grass strips outside and with his sister and M. and another boy near the end of the session. He isn’t aggressive during this play: maybe it’s the presence of the girls, or the non-presence of A. and C. (who tease him, little fish as they are), or both. The four children tumble around together. I sit on the tyre swing to observe. When there’s just J. and M. left I think about the apparently innocent grappling and the ‘just playing for the sake of it’. They laugh and get the better of one another and really seem to be enjoying their play. Ja. has had a difficult session and he’s settled at last. He stands up soon enough and says to no-one in particular, perhaps to M., perhaps to me (I haven’t been acknowledged as observing up till that point) that she’s got him ‘in the private parts’. He repeats it, then goes into what I think of as a bizarre sort of posturing dance — after belching a couple of times — a posturing like he’s acting out being a flamingo with angled out hands up by his head! It’s almost like some sort of primitive display of manliness, I think, there and then — a sudden shift from apparently innocent grappling to potential flirting or a show of coming of age. These are just my interpretations, and they’re over in a few seconds, but it’s interesting to see the shift all the same.

to be continued . . .

White City stories: part 12

Continuing the stories from my recent after school sessions playworking week at White City Adventure Playground, London.

In between being invited into football (‘be the goalie’) and more ‘chase don’t tap’, the next day, I sit on the bench outside, wrapped up warm, and observe a fluid arrangement of children as they gradually build a den under one of the platforms. They drag over bits of things they find: a log, two plastic moulded shapes that used to belong to something, things to sit on, a long cardboard tube they find, bits of plastic guttering, a wooden rocking contraption, like a boat, that one of the children and I had dragged up to the path slope because she reckoned it would slide down, even though I reckoned it wouldn’t beat the friction. I observe the children gradually finding things for the den, and I think of the activity of Wombles!

Wombles' den
Drilling holes just to make holes

Hassan is with a boy at the bench, and the boy has a lump of wood and a power drill. The child is drilling holes part way through the wood: just drilling, process over product. I watch from nearby and then take over supporting the boy when Hassan is called away. I find I have to make constant reappraisals of my comfort level here in my dynamic risk assessment. I don’t know the child or his skills or awareness levels. I remind him a couple of times about not waving the drill around (a younger child has come to watch too, and there are also my eyes to watch out for!). He gets the drill stuck a couple of times, but he works out how to back it up with the button on. Soon enough I see that he’s OK, but I feel I also need to remind him once or twice to watch his fingers. He and the girl then take it in turns to drill through a cardboard tube they find. This is all contained by the children, but I find myself just a little on edge, if I’m honest.
A brief account of adult-child play forming

Later, children are chalking on the paving slabs. This is another of those joint adult-child experiences forming: a younger girl and I draw cats and fish and a shark, copying one another. She takes it on herself to draw fish bubbles. Later, I come back and other children are block-colouring in the shark.
Amusements of bodily functions

It’s Wednesday and I go into the computer room near the end of the session. Two children start typing various words into ‘Google image’. I stay just to see. They don’t seem to pay me any undue attention as they type ‘poo’ and ‘wee’ and ‘fart’ and talk about these things and about the pictures they find. They gross out at drawings of piles of poo! I stay just in case some images might not be suitable. The children aren’t looking for such things though: they’re looking for poo and wee and farts!
Loose food experiments

Earlier, a girl of about 9 or 10 wants some pure orange juice which is left over from tea. There are cartons on the counter. I say ‘help yourself’, so she does — three cupfuls, and it has an effect! It’s like a sugar rush (I didn’t realise there would be sugar in it like this!) and she bounces around inside and outside. She finds some old football netting and wraps herself up in it. She’s extremely fizzy. She and her two friends are laughing and she’s falling over and picking herself up and laughing out loud. She makes out she’s hurt and hides from her friends on the cushions in the store area. I go to see if she’s OK and she says not to let on and to tell the others she’s hurt. I say I won’t lie for her!

Rich and I had decided we’d do tea a little differently. Food time is fairly loose anyway — children come when they’re ready, make use of the kitchen, as far as I can see, use the serving counter. We decide we’ll just get all the food out and put it on the table tennis table so the children can make it themselves out there. A younger girl wants to help me get the stuff out (I said I’d sort the food out today). So I give her packets of crackers to take over, tomatoes, juice cartons, cups and plates, mayo and salad cream, bread. As the children start to come over (they don’t get stopped in their play; they just notice when food’s out or, if they don’t, one of us will say it’s ready when they are, as we move around the spaces), they’re a little unsure to start with. They soon work out that they should do it themselves though. They ask for jam, so I go find that. I’ve forgotten the cheese, so I bring out a big slab. There’s no problem at all with the food being done this way. Children make what they want and go off to eat it where they want.

to be continued . . .

White City stories: part 11

I usually write every Friday, without fail. This week I have an excuse: the opportunity to return to White City, London arose — so, this jobbing playworker took that chance to work there again (this time in the after school sessions rather than in the open access holiday schemes). There will follow a series of stories focused on the children’s play there (they should be read in conjunction with Parts 1-10 from August 2012 at the open access summer schemes). I hand-wrote these stories in my notebook, as I went along. What I wanted to capture was the feel of these after school sessions, as opposed to the open access summer.

After school facilities in the UK vary a great deal. However, I’ve seen a fair amount of them in capacities such as trainer, assessor, consultant, quality assurance mentor, etc. In a lot of such after school facilities there do seem to be a fair amount of adult agendas going on. Sure, children’s parents are paying for the service and they want certain things in return for their money. However, there are ways and means of doing this. Rich is the manager of the play centre at White City and has a lot of balls to keep juggling. In my opinion, despite the inevitable challenges of working with children fresh out of school each day, and with children en mass in any circumstance, these after school sessions at White City have a lot going for them.

So, here are the stories from February. I write them as they come into my notebook (sometimes the writing flips between days, and I write the highs and the challenges because, to reflect effectively, we need to see it as it is).
Play spaces away from school

This is the space: outdoors there’s various playable stuff just lying around — tyres, bits of wood, lengths of plastic grass, tubs filled with water in the process of icing over, chalks, things to find (like cushions, fabrics, etc.), the remains of the fire pit in the old flower bed planter, fabric hung from trees and railings, things that had been played with and which are waiting to be played with again.

Just lying around
Indoors: a couple of tables dragged out with bits of old keyboards on them, a sofa, a pool table, table tennis table, football table, hot glue gun, bits of track, some papier maché, etc. In a room next door, during the session, the children pull out paints and lots of glitter and old bathroom tiles and they get on with whatever they’re getting on with. Monday, the table tennis and table football don’t get used, as far as I see.

We’ve pulled loads of boxes out from around the place (some had been brought over by Dougie, who will do some maintenance work). We pile the boxes in the main space, leave them. When children come in, a couple poke around the pile, not quite sure. I kick the sole of my foot against the boxes. The children get stuck in.

Box pile
Later, I come back and a house/castle/something has been built. Sharon (staff) has been sticking a large box down to the floor with masking tape: a door. Earlier, the children come in in dribs and drabs from the local school runs, walked back by escorts. They have the indoor space and the outdoor space to use (though I know Rich would prefer them to be mostly outside, as the open access scheme operates). I open the shutter to the playground area when we get back with the first eleven children.

It doesn’t take too long for some of the children to ask me to play ‘tap’ with them — though, just like in the summer, this is more a game of ‘chase don’t tap’ (they like to run and see if they can’t be caught). They call time-outs and ‘homey’ whenever I’m close. I’m aware of not getting too caught up in the play.

Food isn’t a sit down affair — children are free to take snacks and go eat them where they want and when they want. Staff go around the playground asking small groups if they’ve eaten yet.

Later, as the light fades, the children are in the playground and a group of five younger children are playing on the bank underneath the floodlight. I can’t hear them but I see that they’re just flopping around up there.
Accidental pizza

Me, Hassan, Rich and Sharon tend to take turns in wandering round the spaces, either indoors or outdoors, wherever we are, observing in each if there’s no adult near. It’s fluid. Indoors, two of the younger girls are playing in the box house/castle/shop/something. I don’t know what it is. One of them asks if I’ll come play. I knock on their box door and, when a girl answers it, I say, ‘Hello, can I have a pizza please?’ I immediately think whether this is strictly what the theory/literature takes as acceptable or not. I mean, this is me to have suggested/‘directed’ the play. I have been thinking recently though, in the back of my mind, what if parts of the theory aren’t as accurate or ‘real’ as they could be? What if what’s happening with today’s children is different to what others know/have seen/have written about?

I asked for pizza and part of me wondered if that was ‘right’ and part of me knew it was fine. Straight away, without blinking or questioning my right to impose on her play, the girl said, ‘OK, what would you like on your pizza?’ And so the play went on. My thinking is that this play frame took place at the end of the session (on my first day, Monday) and so the children had had time to get used to me. I was accepted. Of interest to me was that, the next day, without my direct sparking input, the girls ended up repeating and extending the play frame (building with the boxes and serving pizzas with a tennis racket and a polystyrene box) and going on to ask other children if they wanted ‘Nandos’ in small boxes they served them in. What are Nandos? I asked Rich. It’s a local chicken restaurant chain, he told me.

So, was my original input ‘wrong’? Or did my unplanned input (spontaneous, potentially and unconsciously hooking into the mindsets of two of the children) spark off two days of play? (Or, bits of those days at least).

to be continued . . .


I wonder what my childhood would have been like had it been subjected to the curse of ‘over risk assessment’. I’ve been immersed in looking at ‘health, safety and security’ within play environments this week, because that’s where some of my learners are at in their studies at the moment. The problems of an ‘elfansafety’ culture (thanks for that sort of phraseology, Arthur!) can play themselves out in rather over-zealous risk assessment paperwork.

Whilst I do appreciate safety and children not breaking themselves, what the ‘powers that be’ seem to forget is the dynamic common sense ‘see-it-as-it-unfolds’ way of assessing if something is just too hazardous to take the risk over. What play environments’ policies seem to forget (or rather, what those who write these things seem to forget) is that children are more than capable of assessing for themselves if they can or will do something.

So, what might my childhood have been like had it been subjected to over-zealous application of paperwork? Let’s think . . .

That stream is four centimetres deep. On no account should the child go within eight feet of the edge, and only then with a responsible adult closely watching and only when that adult is equipped with a whistle, a clipboard, a first aid kit, and inflatable arm bands. The child should not be allowed to paddle in the water: there’s a risk of getting the feet wet, of picking up water-borne infection, of endangering wildlife, of contracting frog-lurgy.

Swings are not for jumping off. On no account must the child jump from the swing to see how far they can get. Swings should only be swung by two feet in either direction. The child must have both hands on the chains and their bottom on the seat at all times. The adult must push the child and must watch closely. Only play on swings equipped with standard safety matting. Promptly whisk children away from swings which have gravel underneath, cracked concrete, muddy grass (slippage risk) or cracked paving slabs.

Rolling down hills is only prohibited if an adult is watching closely. The child must roll down sideways and should go no farther than six feet, irrespective of the size of the hill (it’s for their own benefit). Before playing the child should be forced into compulsory hazard checks (using clipboards) for dangers such as dogshit, sticky up sticks, and sodden pornography. The child must, on no account, do a forward roly-poly down the hill.

Running downhill is strictly prohibited. Running through bushes, through alleys, around blind corners, up the road, on grass (slip risk) are all also strongly discouraged. The child should walk from one place to another to avoid falling over, especially when outside due to the huge amount of hazards out there. A responsible adult should remain no more than three paces behind the child at all times. The adult should be equipped with a first aid kit, a whistle, a walkie-talkie (this was the 1970s, you understand), a stretcher, a portfolio of emergency contact numbers, a rucksack of emergency clothing, bandaging, and first aid manuals, and suncream.

Balancing on any object higher than two inches should be closely monitored. The child should be made aware of the dangers of standing on one leg on kerb stones, standing on small walls, walking on small walls (especially knobbly ones with dangerous uneven bricks), and looking through the railings of bridges over the main road. Before play is allowed, the child should be sat down and instructed about the safety matters concerned with kerb stones, walls, and looking through the railings of bridges over main roads. The child should be made to agree an action plan of their intentions whilst discussing the ground rules. They should sign a form to say they agree to the rules and that breaking the rules is bad, resulting in them being whisked off indoors and sat in front of a nice safe jigsaw puzzle (see ‘risk assessment for jigsaw puzzles’, including the possibility of pieces being shoved up noses, getting stuck in ears, slip risk on floor).

The child should not bump or slide down the stairs in a sleeping bag. This constitutes a serious slip risk. If the child asks to play on or near the stairs, they should first be strongly discouraged. If an adult in close attendance does let the child play on or near the stairs, they should first recognise that their neck is on the block, and should then only allow such play if the child is wrapped not in a sleeping bag but in appropriate safety clothing. The child should be at least three times fatter than they are in ordinary circumstances. The child must be equipped with Velcro seating. Only two stairs shall be allowed to be played on. Only the bottom two stairs shall be played on.

The child shall not play on tables. The only exception to this safety rule is if the child is playing with a nice jigsaw or a nice board game at the table (see ‘jigsaw risk assessment’ and ‘nice board game risk assessment’). Playing on tables is a very bad thing if it doesn’t involve jigsaws or board games. The child must not be allowed to exercise their imagination in using the table for anything other than its correct purpose. A table must be used as a table: any other use of a table is a clear disrespect of the furniture. Disrespecting furniture is a very bad thing and should be punished by sitting the child on the naughty chair. The naughty chair must not be disrespected and should be positioned at the table (because that’s what chairs are for). The child should be given a nice jigsaw or board game to do, and to learn from, once they’ve calmed themselves down after disrespecting the furniture.

The child should not jump on the sofas or the bed (see above re: disrespecting furniture), turn the sofas upside-down (see above, also see ‘manual handling’ policy), or shove his younger brother under the upturned sofa and stuff up the ends with cushions (sorry to my younger bro, if you’re reading here!!) A responsible adult should be on hand at all times. The adult should be within breathing distance of the child (not within sight or sound only) at all times. The adult must instantly stop the child if the child even thinks about picking up a cushion (zip risk, getting caught in the eye; dangerous leaking stuffing could suffocate the child; cushions being bashed around younger brother’s head are obvious safety issues; slip risk of cushions on floor; disrespecting soft furnishings). The adult should suggest a nice board game instead . . .

I could go on and on and on. You get the point, I trust. I’m glad I grew up my way.

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