Archive for September, 2013
The boys are quiet. They’re two and a half and three and a half. They’re in the shed, on their own. The door is shut. I’m in the house, looking out on the garden, and I realise that I haven’t heard or seen the children for a while. The last time I took any significant conscious note, there were three children sat quietly in the shed, surrounded by the sand they’d up-ended, sitting on the wooden booster boxes or on top of the empty old keg in there. They were sat around chatting in a way that was a little unusual for this small group of two to four-year-olds: they’re usually bouncing around after one another, some place. Now though, there’s one child of the three indoors, but the boys are quiet some place else: the shed door is shut. I go out to investigate.
When I open the shed door there’s no-one inside. Strange, I think: I could have sworn they were in here. It’s a little dark without windows, and it’s a little musty. This is where all the play stuff lives: though it’s scattered around now and flung into new living places this end of summer. I’m just turning back out of the shed when I hear a small sound. I have no idea where it’s coming from. I listen hard and think I must be hearing things, or the sound is coming from next door’s garden or something. There it is again though. ‘Are you in here, boys?’ I say. There’s no reply. Instead, again after a little while, there’s another small shuffling. I can’t trace it so I look in low places.
There, wedged right in at the back by the wall, nestled on top of a mound of old fabric sheets that some children I once worked with painted several years ago, are the boys. They grin out at me, looking like mice in the process of burrowing. I don’t think they’re hiding from me: I think it’s the other way around — I’ve disturbed something here. ‘Hi,’ I say. It’s all I can say. The boys wait, still grinning, and I don’t know if they expect me to tell them to get out or demand of them what they’re doing in there. I like to think they know me well enough though. ‘So,’ I say. ‘Um, OK. Mind your heads on the wood there, won’t you? It might have some nails in, and it’s dark in there.’ The boys nod. Adults can tend to state the obvious sometimes, can’t they?
‘I’ll, er, leave you to it then,’ I tell them and, as an after-thought — because something in me just tells me I need to get out of there, but also something in me tells me I ought to suggest something also verging on the ‘safer’ side — I add: ‘Can we just leave the door open a bit?’ The boys are OK with this, but I also realise (sort of, at the time) that that’s going to change things. The space no longer has the same potential quality as it did a few minutes before I’d come in: for one, the door is now ajar and there’s more light in there; for another, the ‘just burrowing’ — or whatever it is — now has a tinge of ‘hiding’ about it; for one more thing, a least one adult now knows about the play and the space. None of this in so many words, no doubt, is going through the minds of a two-year-old and a three-year-old, but it goes through mine now as I write.
Caught unawares by the process of creation unfolding (unexpected in that space, at that time, by these particular children, in this way), this adult — though pleasantly surprised — clicked into default adult mode of stating the bloody obvious and looking to modify the ‘safeness’ of the scene. It didn’t really need either. It needed me just not to have got in the way, or having done so accidentally, to get out again soon enough. Why does this matter? Surely it’s just a small thing, this finding of a secret space being created, trying to make sure no-one gets hurt? It’s about trust, of course.
If we extend it out to the idea that adults can, and often do, poke their uninvited way into such secret play repeatedly, the children aren’t going to feel trusted. Secret spaces are important for children. They’re created and owned, or places of escape, or places where all manner of strange imaginings can happen and can only happen there. They’re all of these and more. That we might not be able to see or hear the children will probably be a little disturbing for many adults: we’re conditioned to want to protect, of course, but also increasingly we’re conditioned to impose our own wills on children. Children become the receptacles for our adult ideas, morals, teachings and other wisdoms. Small, dark spaces in slightly musty sheds (albeit full of play stuff, but also home to tools and garden equipment and piled up things) are — adult ‘knowledge’ says — not appropriate places to be ‘hiding’ in.
The boys weren’t hiding, as such; or so I believe. They were ‘burrowing’, or ‘making’, or ‘just seeing’, or whatever it was they were doing. Maybe there was some hiding in it, but maybe they were ‘just hiding’ and not hiding from anyone in particular. I don’t know. This small, dark space in a slightly musty shed — it seems, therefore — was a perfect place to be doing whatever the boys were doing in it. The things we adults seem to have forgotten . . .
In my childhood there were many such spaces as these: in scooped-out gaps in various hedges; in the narrow concrete tunnel tubes that led to the lakes; in the cupboard under the stairs; in the possibility of the central heating system, just big enough to squeeze into (though I never tried); under upturned sofas; in the long grass at the end of the school playing field; in others’ discarded places found in the woods. What things happen in places such as these? It’s not for us adults to know: it’s only for us to remember.
There are times when the boys are quite comfortable with me being around their play, when they actively want me to be a part of it; there are times when they tolerate me or need me to help make something happen; there are times when they tolerate me, but when I really should be leaving them be (times such as when burrowing in old fabric in a dark corner of a slightly musty shed). I’m reminded of how, once, at a setting I worked at, other staff were agitated by the children’s need to climb into the cupboard (which could fit several of them at once); by their need to pull the blackout material across (which I’d stapled there beforehand); by their urgent need for me to find the torches, then shut the door, leave them be. My colleagues said that they couldn’t see the children. I said, ‘So?’ We could hear them banging and gurgling away, or shuffling around. When I checked in, every so often (yes, I disturbed them too and maybe shouldn’t have done), they were keen for me just to close the door again. The smell was ripe enough and I was keen to close that door for them!
Maybe, as adults, we’ll always have this in-built need to ‘check in’ on children (in our settings or in our homes); maybe, if we need to do this, we should find other much more subtle ways to do it: after all, something of the essential quality of that space the children are playing in will, no doubt, be lost if we check in too clumsily. A chipping away of trust will happen if we repeat and repeat our clumsinesses.
There’s much to entertain the WordPress blogger backstage of his or her own blog. A few days ago, I found myself leafing through the long list of search engine terms that unknown people had plugged in to their screens, landing eventually on this blog. Really, I recommend the exercise: it’s quite cathartic in its own way! As I read I thought: there’s plenty here for me to write about, albeit something that might end up somewhat lengthy.
So, there follows a selection from backstage. I’ve copied and pasted them word for word — save for a few spelling, punctuation and grammar corrections here and there, because it’s my blog and I have a need to do that! I’ve also reserved the right to re-write ‘children’ where people have written ‘kids’ because children aren’t baby goats, and I’ve long been of the opinion that using this term is somewhat patronising. Likewise you’ll never, ever read or hear me use the words ‘zany’ or ‘whacky’ (at all, except here!) and especially not linked to anything to do with children. I digress.
When reading this backstage list, it struck me that I could pretty much roughly sort things into general categories. So, here goes. We have:
• the top repeated searches;
• the (perceived as) sensible play and playwork questions, in the spirit of reflective thinking;
• the category I’m calling, for now, WTF?;
• the esoteric, that is, the somewhat obscure;
• the dodgy study skills of some playwork learners list (I also teach it, so I know some of the things that are asked of them).
If you’re a regular reader/play and playwork search engine user, and if you’ve entered any of these phrases, I don’t know who you are: so, rest assured (though you know who you are!) It’s not my intention to alienate; I write later in the spirit of playful poke!
The top searches list
A lot of playwork people are looking for one of the following, judging by the search engine terms here on this site: psycholudics and/or the play cycle; the Playwork Principles; Bob Hughes and the Play Types (I deliberately write it like that because it sounds like some sort of Bluegrass quartet to me!); UK age discrimination; that cartoon from Calvin and Hobbes (you know the one, my favourite, Calvin whacking nails into a coffee table!)
I’m not going to write all sections of this post in this way, but this first one gets this treatment for those who are truly looking for the above and who find their way here.
For all things Psycholudics/Play Cycle go to Ludemos to read what Perry Else and Gordon Sturrock say about their own writings.
The Playwork Principles can be found via Play Wales (Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group, 2005), amongst other places.
Bob Hughes and his infamous play types can be found in various books (though always check anything you find against the source material (i.e. the Taxonomy, listed below, second edition of the 1996 original) because some sources make mistakes in describing some of the play types. The following I know are all good:
A playworker’s taxonomy of play types, 2nd edition: Bob Hughes (2002) — try this connection to Playlink.
Or go here re: PlayEducation, a site I’ve just found — though I do know of PlayEd — where Bob’s keeping his head down, judging by the site address! (To paraphrase Bob in a personal communication, about play types, once engaged in with him: ‘I wish I hadn’t written the bloody things’ — or words to that effect!)
As a side note, judging by the search engine terms in this long list backstage, it almost seems as if playwork, as a thing in itself, has been reduced down solely to a rough amalgam of ‘play types, the play cycle (or psycholudics for those who are feeling brave), and a smattering of the Playwork Principles’. There’s more to it than just that. Or, as I’ve often been told when I try to explain what I do to the man in the pub, who stares at me before breaking into a smile of almost comprehension: so, you play with children then?/so you teach children how to play? Right, OK.
As a second side note, I always find it a little disturbing when casting my eye over job adverts for playworkers or playwork managers. They nearly always state that they’re looking for someone to provide for ‘safe, stimulating planned activities for children’, or words like this, then follow that up with a reference to the Playwork Principles. It shows me that the setting in question doesn’t get it.
OK, so with the useful mains now done, we move on. I may come back to the next block sometime for a post of its own, I think; though I’ll make brief comment here for now:
The sensible questions list
Q: Playwork Level 3: you overhear a 7 year old say to another child, go away.
A: So? We’re not here to tell Child A or Child B how to be.
Q: Early years vs playwork debate.
A: There’s a whole blog or three in this one. I’ve worked in both fields. If there are focuses in early years for giving children a good grounding for upcoming years, there are focuses in playwork for the now. It’s much wider than this though.
Q: What it means to be a children’s playworker.
A: The way this is worded suggests to me that I, playworker, belong to the children. It allows me to offer up a favourite quote: ‘I’m here to serve you, but I’m not your servant.’
Q: Children’s effect on adults.
A: You mean ‘affect’? It links to Playwork Principle number 7 and how children really can affect our feelings. ‘Effect’ refers to a result, a change. (Or, maybe, inadvertently, ‘effect’ does come into play, after all).
Q: What is [it] like as a playworker[?]
A: Only you know this if you work with children (see also immediately above).
Q: Role of the adult recapitulative play.
A: Here’s Bob and his Infamous Play Types again! To answer a sort of question with a question in return: What’s the role of an adult in any play?
Q: Physical contact and rough and tumble play towards male playwork practitioners.
A: This is something we all need to talk about more. Children, in my experience and observation, can often interact with male and female playworkers in different ways. Is it OK? Is that the question? Or, is the question more along the lines of: What should we do about it?/How do we avoid it?
Q: Bargaining with a two year old.
A: Yep, good luck! Here’s my take: Negotiating with two year olds, or how to get unstuck from recurring Escher loops.
Q: Playworker teaching children right from wrong.
A: This playworker is not a teacher (of children). I try (though I sometimes fail) not to let my own morals concern the children I work with.
Q: What don’t playworkers do[?]
A: Teach, moralise, control children, plan endless activities, socialise children, etc. Jacky Kilvington and Ali Wood have a useful list (p.7 of their book, see above).
Q: What can cause a negative effect on the playworker when planning activities[?]
A: Affect or effect? What can cause a negative affect on the playworker when planning activities? Planning activities.
Q: Adult play places.
A: This rock we all live on . . .
Q: What would you do as a[n] LSA when a child is being aggressive and you felt other children were in danger?
A: I’m not a learning support assistant, but I know some people who are. I’ll find out what they say. In general though, I’d say: do what needs to be done; be dynamic, be playful; don’t be a jobsworth . . . and some other things.
Q: When should a playworker pay extra attention to one child[?]
A: Do you observe the child, the playing child, the playing children, the play in the space, any or none of the above?
Q: Ways in which playworkers plan and prepare spaces for play.
A: With consideration of moments . . .
The WTF? list
Q: Jumping over objects in the sandpit for pre-schoolers.
A: Yes, and the point is? Sandpits also function as playable spaces when used in different spatial/imaginative realms by children.
Q: [Well-known playwork person, name with-held here] master playworker.
A: I’m reminded of Arthur’s blog piece, The craft of playwork #3: mastery of playwork or masters in playwork? (revised). He highlights Malcolm Gladwell who, it appears, builds from the work of Anders Ericsson and the 10,000 hours rule (being that which is needed, apparently, to practice the mastery of something). I’m currently of the opinion that there are plenty out there who might like to see themselves as masters of playwork, but really, do any of us ever reach that perfect point of playwork enlightenment?
Master playworker? No. We all keep cocking up (though we should understand that we do, and how, and why, and so on). The first to say he or she has entered the realm of Playwork Nirvana, or claims mastery of the form, is probably trying to sell you something. Let the children on the playground decide.
Q: I got a job as a playworker . . . but now I want to change my profession; when can I do that[?]
A: I want to be pithy and snide here, but I’ve thought about this more: being a playworker isn’t for everyone. Truly being a playworker takes someone who’s accepting of a lot of emergent play material that manifests around them. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable; often it’s momentous.
Q: Teaching kindergarteners [the] concept of wisdom.
A: Again, good luck! Seriously though, really I don’t get this. It’s contradictory.
Q: I just found a small snake on the pavement in the UK what is it[?]
A: Umm, a small snake, perhaps? Really (think also ‘dodgy study skills list’). This might seem random but this person landed on this blog because of this post.
Q: A playworker is more than a gentlemand oh his knees [sic].
A: I leave this one exactly as I found it because I really don’t know how to edit it! Suffice is to say that, yes, I agree about the ‘playworker and his knees’ conundrum.
Q: Is it dangerous for [children] to play in leaves[?]
A: No. Next question. Or, ask yourself the following additional questions: Is there an adder in the leaves? Are the leaves concealing an open man-hole cover? Do you keep leaf-dwelling crocodiles in your playground? Generally speaking, autumn happens, and children + wind + leaves = play. Observe.
Q: Is the play cycle the same as play cycle[?]
A: Umm, yes. (Think also ‘dodgy study skills list’). Really. Again.
Q: Where did Gordon Sturrock and Perry Else meet[?]
A: Good question. Gordon? Perry? Anyone? Or, why do you need to know?
Q: The psycholudics.
A: Does the definite article (that’s the ‘the’) suggest that this search term is about that as-yet-unsigned punk-rock trio The Psycholudics? (Bob and his Infamous Play Types don’t have much to trouble their market share there).
Q: Can you get bugs from children as a playworker[?]
A: This is the funniest thing I’ve read all week. Really. My answer is: maybe (though I have a theory that some of us have natural immunity due to having been around children for long enough!) My additional question though is: Why? Are you planning a health and safety sting on your employer or something?
The esoteric list
Q: Three guys sitting around drinking coffee.
A: Yes, sometimes coffee happens in playwork. It helps the observation skills, I find (whilst Mars Bars and Lucozade — other stimulants are available — tend to help in lieu of proper food on the playground).
Q: Playworker magic.
A: It is, a kind of, if you get it right.
Q: Adult play with cack.
A: I take ‘cack’ here as referring to the vernacular that is ‘junk, stuff, things left lying around, etc.’ So, yes, why not? Hands up all those who’ve been students and who did the student thing with the traffic cones late at night . . . you know the one . . .
Q: Mystical words to make things happen.
A: Abracadabra? Izzy Wizzy Let’s Get Busy? Meeska Mooska Mickey Mouse? How about: let’s play?
Q: We used to have fart competitions.
A: I salute you, sir or madam. I do!
The dodgy study skills list
Q: What would I do if a child is new to a setting, knows no other children, and sticks to the playworker like glue[?]
A: Methinks this playwork learner has taken the bulk of something they’ve been asked to do and planted it straight into the search engine box because I recognise that glue part from somewhere! The key here is ‘what would I do . . .?’ I don’t know, what would you do? I know what I would do and have done.
Q: Observation at play, which include[s] play types, returns, cue and playworker interaction.
A: Now don’t be so lazy here. Write your own observation of play that you’ve seen. It works better that way.
Q: I’m a playworker: I have to write about a boy in my settings [sic] like what he does there.
A: Go on then, crack on. Don’t expect me to do it for you. If you don’t observe, you won’t see, and if you don’t see you won’t start to feel or understand.
Q: How to write about snow playing.
A: To misquote Morpheus, he of the Matrix: stop trying to write about snow play and write about snow play. Observe. See things.
Q: Own memories of play to use in playwork.
A: Umm . . . no, I’m not even going there.