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

Playwork is not the only way of working with children. This has become clearer over the years, in the way that the blindingly obvious has a tendency to secrete itself in full view. This is to say, playwork is a methodology of working, and other methodologies are available. However (there’s always a ‘however’), playwork seems to me (and many others of similar experiences) the most ‘authentic’, integrous, soulful, connected way of working when treading in the children’s space.

Last week I wrote about fences. It was both a thing-in-itself and a means of jumping into further writing. I am aware of the tub-thumping I do here on the screen and — despite the rational part of my brain spinning away in the background of my day to day interactions — I’m aware of my sometimes awkward tub-thumping ways out and about: I know that the world in which we live won’t change just like that, despite all my advocacy for play and for the world of ‘wouldn’t it be great if . . .’ I know this, but I keep on thinking ‘what if?’

Last week I wrote:

What would it all be like if there were no fence here at all, and (this is a pre-condition of that scenario, I suppose) if our society were much more pre-disposed towards the child as co-member of that society — respected better, listened to more, considered?

If we were able to treat our children differently, better, with more considered thought, with all the time and grace we expect others to treat us as we go about our day to days . . . if we were to do this . . .

So things don’t happen overnight, but we can start small and locally. Playwork methodology, for me, holds within it the greatness of the small: the small moment, the small beauty, the small anxiety, or the small nuance of enormous subtlety. Where such seeds are sown, strange and wondrous fruits may sprout instantaneously, and they’ll stay rooted. The child who ‘gets’ the playworker because the playworker gets them, their play, their reasons for being or saying or doing, is someone who may well recognise that playworkerness of being in others too.

Playworkers work with the child’s way of being, doing, playing, choices, fears and dreamings and schemings, and so on. Some days playworkers get their practice wrong, but they can call themselves playworkers if they acknowledge what they’ve got wrong, why, how, when; they can take it on the chin when their fellow playworkers tell them what they’ve seen or felt or intuitively understood. They make good where they can. Some days I’ve got it wrong. Some days I’ve got it right . . .

A few weeks ago, a small moment happened on the playground, a moment that may have gone absolutely unrecognised by anybody else, including the child that this story relates to (right there and then, at least, though I’m trusting that the affect of the moment stays with her in her continuing acknowledgement of playworkerness). It was this: I was walking towards the corner of the building, out on the playground; I heard her but couldn’t see her; I knew she was coming my way and I knew how she would enter that space which I currently occupied. I stopped quickly, and she hurtled around the corner, sped past me with just the briefest form of acknowledgement of my presence, and then was gone in the play somewhere else. I’d got it right because, I immediately recalled, the story told to me of someone somewhere else who’d not stopped, despite the child about to career around the corner on the pedal car, slamming into that adult someone; the child got blamed and was subsequently prevented from playing there and with that again.

It should be the other way around: this is the child’s space of play, stop, wait. When I see colleagues who are playworkers, or people who aren’t playworkers but are in the space of play, walking around the children’s play (their ‘play frames’) instead of straight through them, I sense someone pre-disposed towards the child as co-member of this society — respected better, listened to more, considered. It is to these small instances of understanding that I’m often drawn.

When ‘the rules’ are ‘broken’ by adults (playworkers or otherwise) because ‘the rules’ aren’t fit for purpose, are there because they’ve always been there, or because they serve mainly to reduce the anxiety of adults or are subservient to those adults’ tolerance levels for play, I applaud inwardly: noting, nodding. In the same way that children ‘get’ that archetypal playworkerness, which can manifest in various adults, and they seem to grow more comfortable with those adults, I too note that playworkerness of others. I can get myself in trouble with the whole ‘let’s not worry about those ‘rules’ today’ thinking: I’ve recognised this and it has happened. If it happens though, it happens because what I feel and see and think about is: ‘this here is play.’

Playworkerness, in its small richnesses of occurence, I think of when I see or sense adults knowing what’s around them, or around corners, and actively doing something about this, when they walk around the edges of the play frame, when they aren’t slaves to ‘the rules’. I see it also when they show they know that any manner of things can pollute or ruin the play (not shouting out to children to do this or that; not pushing their noses in to see/be part of/teach children ‘better ways’ of play; not trying to grab the ‘play setting’ by the temporal edges, as it were, and fling it back around so all its energy of play stops and then slowly spins the other way, all around that adult at its centre — that is, there is playworkerness in not saying, implying or insisting that ‘it’s all about me’).

It’s not about the adult, but the child seems to know that the adult who serves the playness is an adult who is embraced into that playness. Anything else, in the context of the ‘play setting’, and the adult is left at the edges of ‘necessarily being there’ but not ‘being necessary’.

Playwork methodology, in the particulars of its small graces, in its ‘authentic’, integrous, soulful, connected way of working when treading in the children’s space, is a starter disposition for a society that could do better, I feel.

What if we could take down all the fences and walk around, not through, the play of children’s space within the whole space?


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