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.
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.
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.
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 . . .