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

Lately I’ve been wearing many hats. I lose track of myself some weeks: sometimes trainer, sometimes trainee, sometimes playworker, sometimes independent learner. I work with children and with adults; I play with family. In amongst it all there’s a thread of thinking about what I’m doing whenever I wear any one of these hats (sometimes the hats are worn at the same time, and this can be confusing). So I’m thinking about thinking . . .

It occurred to me, earlier in the week, that some trainees just blindly follow what they’ve been told by the trainer. I’m a trainer myself and so I know what might go on in the minds of those doing the training: I find, despite myself, if I’m undertaking training, I’m often also paying attention to how the trainer works — not just what they say; I find I start questioning the ‘how they work’ and that then leads me to questioning the content. Of course I’m not perfect when I’m being the trainer myself, so there are things I can learn in doing that too, but after a while you do get to work out when the trainer’s blagging it, being evasive, not entirely sure, etc. because . . . well, let’s just say I’ve been there too!

It’s the questioning of what’s being presented, or taught, that I want to focus on here though. Sitting there nodding your head, moving the pen across the paper dutifully, or absorbing everything totally without it bothering your brain is all very well (and it might be just what some trainers want), but it won’t help you — the trainee — really. Sure, the trainer gets their evaluation form filled out with ticks in agreeable places, and they don’t have to deal with any awkward questions, but has anything really been gained here?

Co-incidentally, in the process of thinking this all out in my head, I received a message from one of my current playwork learners: she questioned my feedback to her, and put forward strong arguments for why she was doing this. Excellent! I thought. Now, there’s a brain that’s starting to think about children and play and playwork and reflective practice. This questioning also gets me thinking about what I’m saying to those I’m giving playwork information to: is what I’m saying actually playwork? Does what I’m saying tally with the ‘real world’? Am I just regurgitating other playwork writers’ ideas? Do we need to re-define what playwork actually is?

A fair amount of taking on board (I won’t necessarily say ‘learning’ because there’s an active element to this) what’s being taught could easily have something to do with the ‘believing in’ of the person who’s doing the teaching or training. The same can be said for the things that ‘playwork people’ are saying, out and about, online, in journals, etc. When someone becomes un-believed in, all their thinking might well become un-believed as well. There are some playwork people who I believe in a lot; there are some I struggle to believe in because of what they say or do.

As in other fields of work, playworkers can become sucked into the whole ‘this is the way it is’ scheme of thinking: so-and-so says or writes such-and-such, therefore it must be true. There needs to be more thinking done all round. I don’t just limit this to playwork: anyone who works with or around children should be thinking more about what they, the adults, do and about what the children are doing. Why? Children deserve consideration.

Here’s an interesting viewpoint I picked up on recently from the ‘field’ (that is, people I know out there in playwork-land): it’s something I’ve kind of known about for a while, but I feed it in here as an example. Writing about children from an ex-teacher’s point of view, John Taylor Gatto is of the opinion that:

The ordinary citizen in command of an active imagination is dangerous. Realising this makes it easier to understand why so many great philosophers and theologians — dependent for their bread, butter, and status on selling useful advice to rulers — recommended mass schooling of the young as the best way to weaken imagination and make subject populations manageable.

Socialising imagination is the most important job mass schooling does in the interests of those who value social stability over individual development.

For school to do its work, it must centre itself around obedience, deference, competition, routines, and memory, but those are only minor parts of an education.

Almost nothing school offers is educational in the fundamental sense that it offers understanding and hard-nosed skills. When you emerge from school, can you build a house, make clothing, grow food, repair a machine? Do you know the ways of the human heart so well it would be hard to fool you? Can you concentrate? Can you associate skilfully in any kind of human situation? Are you self-reliant, resourceful, strategic or tactical at your own discretion? Do you trust your judgment or do you subordinate yourself to ‘experts’?

Will you be able to steer your own ship through the years of your life, or have you only been trained to be crew on someone else’s ship, and to listen to a stranger as your captain?

Strong stuff. Are children given the scope to be able to think for themselves (in their own play, at home, at school, in play settings, out and about)? By the same token, are playwork trainees being encouraged to think enough, to question the received wisdom of the ‘great and the good’, to say ‘hang on, that’s not what happens in my experience’?

If adults and children aren’t in positions where they’re free to really think, and really question things, then isn’t there something very, very wrong going on? So, I put it to you — whether you’re a playwork learner on a course or not, or if you’re someone who works with or around children in other ways, or if these children are your own children or part of your family — question what you see and hear and what you’re taught or what someone you believe in tells you: ultimately, children deserve that consideration, that process of your thinking.


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