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 the 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.


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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