For the people of a playwork persuasion out there, I offer up a first draft addition to the well-worn Playwork Principles (they that shall be followed, and not scrutinised: the Holy Scripture as it were), which I shall provisionally call ‘The Ten Commandments of Playwork’. (OK, so the list is longer than this, but ten is a whole number, see!) We can be a bit of a closed shop in playwork circles (and this post may or may not go some way towards perpetuating that; you decide). So if it gets the non-playworkers of the world thinking ‘what is this guy talking about?’, also good, but really the ‘Ten’ Commandments list is looking at where we’re at in this field of work with children, and maybe parts of where we could be at, but mostly just asking for a little more thinking from playwork and potential playwork people (in the spirit of continuing to examine what’s real on the playground and what’s just theory).
If you’re reading (as a regular non-playwork reader here, or if you’ve just stumbled across this blog), advanced apologies for some of the ‘in-house’ jargon and references to the acknowledged luminaries of playwork. (Hence I prove my point on closed-shop-ness, but you’ll find out about ‘the names’ if you want to). So, to the Commandments (unaccustomed as I am to the use of capital letters dead smack in the middle of sentences, this capital letter here seemed appropriate):
1. Thou shalt know the Playwork Principles in spirit, if not by heart.
2. Thou shalt not commit adulteration.
3. Thou shalt believe wholly in Saint Bob of Hughes.
4. Thou shalt walk the walk as well as talk the talk.
5. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbourly playground’s loose parts.
6. Thou shalt know not of the ‘circle of play’ (as spoken by pretend believers) but of the ‘play cycle’.
7. Thou shalt be recalcitrant.
8. Thou shalt challenge and be challenged.
9. Thou shalt not lie with dishonesty about thy feelings on play.
10. Thou shalt be observant.
11. Thou shalt not encourage ‘play nicely’, ‘share toys’, good citizenship, or practising fine motor skills.
12. Thou shalt be excellent to one another (dude!): reference Bill and Ted, those of such notable age!
(And lo, some other stuff too!)
1. Thou shalt know the Playwork Principles in spirit, if not by heart
These Principles are still the cornerstone of what we do, getting on for ten years old now in their present form, but ask most playwork students who are a good halfway through their course what the Principles are and I’m willing to bet that they’re not totally up to speed with them. Maybe, as trainers of the discipline (or whatever we like to call ourselves) we’d be wrong to impose a Michael Gove-style rote-learning of the Principles on our learners (by pain of the promise of extra lines, chalk dust, and red ink scrawled in wallpaper-decorated exercise books: ‘see me after class’). Can any qualified playworker cite the Holy Scripture of the Principles word for word? (No looking now: only you know, and you’d only be cheating yourself if you were to lie).
So, if a playwork student or a post studentdom playworker can’t (or won’t) quote the Principles verbatim, is it too much to expect them to know what they mean in spirit? Shouldn’t they at least be able to reduce it down to numbers? Principle number 1 is roughly about this, Principle 2 is something along the lines of . . . and so on. Or is that too difficult? Maybe there should just be a rough idea of the fact that the Principles exist, that by and large they’re a good thing (maybe), and that we don’t really need to pay too much attention to them in the ‘real world’ of the playground or after school setting. After all, we can get our qualification, much like our spanking by the irregular and feared Mr or Mrs Ofsted, then we can forget all about it. Can’t we?
2. Thou shalt not commit adulteration
Now, in the ‘real world’ doesn’t children’s play get ‘adulterated’ all the time? That is, adults exist in amongst the things that children do (in the physical spaces, in the psychological and emotional zones that develop around the playing child or children), so maybe we should just all accept that and realise that children are much better off with adult instruction (being for their own good in the long run, after all) . . . OK, regular readers here know I can’t go on with that line of thinking. I can only go so far in a certain direction when playing Devil’s Advocate! If I’m thinking on this seriously, I do often reflect back on my own work with children and wonder if my actions are a hindrance, or something other, for them. Children do sometimes ask for direct adult input into their play (including, but not limited to, ideas and so forth) . . . I’m on thin scriptural ice here. This needs more thinking about.
3. Thou shalt believe wholly in Saint Bob of Hughes
Playwork people: just because Bob’s been around since play began (a few epochs before the invention of gravity), it doesn’t mean he can’t be challenged. I’m pretty sure he’d welcome that. Bob has written some good playwork stuff (‘good’ because no-one’s out-trumped his play types thinking yet, for example), but surely you can only ‘believe’ if you also ‘do’, and so then come to the conclusion that your ‘doing’ matches what the ‘scriptures’ say. Right? If they don’t match, then don’t believe, but say it and say why. Basically what I’m trying to say here is, in using Bob as vehicle for an argument: too many playwork people blindly follow too many other playwork people.
4. Thou shalt walk the walk as well as talk the talk
If you’re thinking about playwork and calling yourself a playworker, it follows that you’re doing playwork, right? Clean soft hands, undirtied and unpaint-stained clothes, focused only on the vast amounts of money pouring in at the end of the month (in playwork? Right!) . . . you talk it well in your studies, but maybe that study ought to connect more to the mud- and paint- and rain- and glue- and gob-spattered reality of the playground.
5. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbourly playground’s loose parts
Does it really matter that the children down the road are lavished with all sorts of wondrous objects with which they can investigate those objects’ inner lives (the standard sports equipment prevalent in many after school facilities might once or twice get used as something else). You have a whole heap of things that children can build with, horde away, destroy and throw around. Machine guns and swords might happen, or things that could even challenge playworkers . . .
There are two arguments here in the reality of the playground: that not enough variety of random ‘stuff’ is on offer for children; that actually, contrary to scripture that harks back to the building sites of the 70s and before, children also like playing with little plastic things. I know, I don’t like that thought because it rattles the ‘odds and sods’ part of my playworker self, but it happens. Hmm. Is it because the staff aren’t thinking hard enough, or is it because we think we know best what children want to play with?
6. Thou shalt know not of the ‘circle of play’ (as spoken by pretend believers) but of the ‘play cycle’
Saint Sturrock and Saint Else once penned the Book of Psycholudics. And lo, it was written that, after the metaphorical equivalent of forty days and forty nights in the desert, the Book of Psycholudics withered to its easily digestible ‘just the play cycle bit’. And lo more, it came to pass that, somehow, along the road to Damnation, the ‘just the play cycle bit’ fell further into disrepute by way of transcription into playwork course literature and by the watering down of many a playwork trainer (some of which came from the land of Early Years and didn’t always grasp it fully) . . . basically, I’m fed up of the process that seems to have passed from a fairly hefty academic paper to some student’s work that has turned it all into just a ‘circle of play’.
If we have playwork literature, should we just accept that, like language, it gets transformed into what’s out there on the street rather than what’s in the books? Or should we be striving for the Govian ‘slap them round the back of the head with a wet towel until they get it’ compulsory learning approach?
7. Thou shalt be recalcitrant
Can you really be a playworker if you don’t have at least one finger up to ‘the system’? How does that tally with all the checks and balances and hoops-jumping of the modern play ‘setting’?
8. Thou shalt challenge and be challenged
If you’re not thinking, you’re just drifting. Is that a good thing in today’s society of endless over-stimulation, pressures, targets, and Michael Gove? (Or Ofsted, or the boss, or your playwork assessor, or any other given hassle you have). Wouldn’t it just be a good thing all round if you were just drifting? You’d be happier; the children you work with would be happier not to have such a grim fairy as you moping round the place when you’re on your off day; your colleagues wouldn’t have to put up with your bad hair days, your bad boss days, your ‘today is not your lucky day’ days . . .
Or, maybe thinking about what’s going on about play can be a stimulation in itself . . .
9. Thou shalt not lie with dishonesty about thy feelings on play
Let’s face it, it’s easier not to have to tell yourself what you really think about when the children are charging around with sharp sticks, smacking the little ones in the face just because they can, kicking their mates on the sly and then saying ‘What, what? It wasn’t me. I was just standing here’, even though you watched them from five yards away. If we just didn’t own up to ourselves we wouldn’t have to own up to anybody else. Things would happen, we’d sort them out, we’d go home. Job done.
Job done . . .?
10. Thou shalt be observant
Why? What can we possibly gain from watching the way the children play on the playground? I mean, surely, everything they can get up to they already have done? What good will watching it all again do us? I will be honest with myself here (and with you) by confessing to the thought that is: have I seen everything now? What can I learn from what’s happening here?
It soon often goes though, that thought: observing, you see, is a reward in itself. It’s like play for the player: if play is for play’s sake, observing can sometimes be like this. Observing rewards by grounding the observer in the moment. You’ll have to walk the walk for yourself on that one though.
11. Thou shalt not encourage ‘play nicely’, ‘share toys’, good citizenship, or practising fine motor skills
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it till I get bored of it: what does ‘play nicely’ mean? Really. So this is all about adult agendas and not about play, as played by the child, for the child’s own reasons (standard playwork scripture). What if I were to try to be Devil’s Advocate here though? What if ‘play nicely’ (whatever that turns out to be), sharing your toys, a religious practising of fine motor skills, and so forth, actually do turn out to make you good citizens in a perfect future society? Just think, no more war, no more greedy capitalism, no more crime . . . it’ll be great. Hang on, how long has this ‘let’s build perfect future citizens’ thinking been kicking about . . .? Are we there yet . . .? Cynical? Me? Nah. (Not much).
12. Thou shalt be excellent to one another (dude!): reference Bill and Ted, those of such notable age!
This is not about good future citizenship: this is just a suggestion for being, now. (No future perfect progress rhetoric intended here). Be excellent to the children though, even if all else fails. Why? Well, because you can. Or because you could.
You decide (though I hope you’ll just give it a little thought).