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

Posts tagged ‘order’

Serious playwork: opposing the liberal accusation

In 2010 I delivered a two-day basic playwork block of training, and what I remember most of those sessions will always be the comments made by one attendee towards the end of the second day. He was extremely angry and struggled to keep it in check as he told me, in no uncertain terms, how he saw what I was teaching to be some maladjusted misinformed ‘1970s liberalism’. His vehement opinion really knocked me back. I defended myself at the time by saying that I didn’t write the stuff I was teaching (despite believing in it), that it was developed from those respected playwork writers who’d already put their observations, reflections and theories down on paper, but it was to little avail. The ‘liberal accusation’ is an on-going accusation, I find.

That is to say, the more I learn about my observations of children at play, my re-readings of older texts and readings of new texts, my conversations and correspondences with other playwork-minded people, and how all of this allows for more nuanced understandings of my own and others’ practices, offering other lenses to see through, the more I recognise the ‘liberal accusation’. Towards one end of the ignorance spectrum (ignorance is bliss, perhaps?) is the only slightly annoying but still somewhat pervading commentary that is, ‘So, you play with children; how hard can it be?’ Towards the other end of the spectrum are comments such as, ‘You can’t just let children do whatever they want, whenever they want: there will be anarchy’, and ‘Children need discipline, order, direction’, or comments from people who say they’re playworkers, and the like, along the lines of getting the whole playwork thing but that, now then, back in the real world . . . (add in any given adult construct of whatever the opposite of ‘just playing around’ can be seen as).

We’re not just playing around in playwork. This is serious stuff. Children play, and their play is also serious stuff. Sure, play can be funny, ridiculous, cute and fluffy, but play also includes the urgent need to destroy, the fervent need to win, the desperate need to be included, the subtle need to just be near this adult in this ‘just right now’ for just a few moments, the sometimes almost imperceptible need to be heard and taken seriously: all of this and an infinite arrangement of other needs too. When I hear the ‘liberal accusation’ come my way, in light of all of the above and everything else I’ve not got the space to write out here, I can’t help the virtual soapbox from coming up out of the ground beneath me and, before I’ve had enough time to think the situation through, there I am, quietly indignant and letting others know it.

The attendee at the 2010 training sessions who shot his ‘1970s liberalism’ accusation at me, if I remember correctly, also went on to extend his thinking (which had, no doubt, been brewing for most of the two days in that room with me and his learner colleagues): his view was along the lines of how you can’t just let children do whatever they want, whenever they want because there’ll be ‘anarchy’. ‘Anarchy’ has got a bad press in the minds of ‘liberal accusers’. The word is often used as a general catch-all that represents the comprehensive meltdown of society as we know it, and the meltdown of the micro-societies of children’s adult-led ‘play settings’ (or, as one girl of about ten, who I used to know, once told me of the after school club she attended, and where I then worked, ‘I don’t want to go the children’s farm today’).

There’s plenty to be diverted by in that last paragraph, plenty to be ‘unpacked’: perhaps there’s material for future writing here but, for now, suffice is to say that I’m starting to understand some playwork colleagues’ indifference for the term ‘play setting’. It does rather conjure up the image of something somewhat lifeless, sterile, in the process of fossilising, setting . . . I’m more interested in the idea of ‘place’. Sure, we do have these things we call ‘compensatory spaces for play’, i.e. the bits inside the fence where play is given the opportunity to be; we may work in these as playworkers, but the place is greater than the space because, amongst other things, there is the playwork mindset at work.

Back to my anarchy-fearing anti-liberalist, and his kindred spirits, and his view that you can’t just let children do whatever they want, whenever they want: the simple response is often just ‘Why?’ Of course, this will be a red flag to a bull, more often than not, and can be used with mischievous intent. However, the question is valid, I think. That is, why can’t children make decisions about what they want to do, and how they do it, and why they want to do it the way that they choose? Is it valid to say that you, an adult, should not be allowed to make decisions about whether to go to the café or the pub or stay at home, whether to go by bus or cycle, or to decide that you need to go to a gig because you’re feeling a certain way? You’re not stupid: you can make your own choices. Children aren’t stupid either: adults tend to treat them as if they are though.

Now, it is fair to say that sometimes children may not perceive the hazards inherent in a situation (but let’s face it, there are plenty of adults who don’t see hazards either: I’m currently of the opinion that if I’m walking down a street and a fellow adult is engaged in phone-zombie mode, eyes on the screen in their hand, head down, ears blocked up with whatever their musical thing is that’s pouring through their earphones, then I’ll just walk-aim for them; call it mischievous intent, call it play!) Back to the children and their occasional inability to see the hazard because (just like the phone-zombie) they’re so into their play: I have been known to point out the hazard if the child hasn’t seen it, or to ask children to remove themselves from an area. Is this adult control? Last week, when a girl was just so hyped up around the fire pit, not noticing that (in my opinion) her play was a potential hazard to the other children around her as well as to herself, I asked her to leave for a while. The children will put plenty of cardboard on the fire because it’s instant gratification, which wood alone can’t give, and because they actively seek out the ‘biggest fire ever’, but they don’t sometimes see the way the fire comes close to their trousers as they jostle for ‘king or queen of the fire’ status. I continue to reflect, a few days on, about whether I did the right thing by her (she refused to leave the fire pit area because, I suspect, she was embarrassed, put out, angry at me, I’d disrupted her play). We settled into a compromise.

This is not a ‘liberal, anarchic, anything goes and hang the idea of danger, let them get on with it’ approach. Apparently, as was told to myself and a colleague by another colleague, a passer-by outside the playground took offence at the fire pit as was seen by peering through the fence: the inference being, as I read it, that children and fire do not, should not, mix and that it’s all very, very wrong. It’s all far too slack and liberal. Children should be given discipline, order, direction, not left to their own devices in obviously unsafe, anything goes havens of anarchic meltdown . . .

In places of play, where play can actually happen, skilled playworkers know when to stay out of things, when to keep a careful eye on the constantly shifting play, when to observe closely from afar or almost imperceptibly from close by; they know that they’re repeating cycles of dynamic risk assessments in their heads, they can sometimes anticipate the play before it’s happened because they know this play frame from other occurrences, they know these children on this playground, they’ve seen the affects of this weather, this play resource, this dynamic of children, or they can make a near-as-makes-no-odds assessment of combined factors of experience in new situations; they can read the stories unfolding, they can hold up their hands if they get it wrong (because that’s what happens in the continual cycle of learning and understanding: we misinterpret sometimes, we realise that we could have been ten seconds sharper, we see that one thing we said or did led to other things that might not have happened otherwise) . . . all of this and more.

I often say to playwork learners that if, by the end of a session, you’re not mentally worn out (and sometimes physically exhausted too), then maybe you’re not doing it right. Being a playworker doesn’t mean that this ‘1970s liberalism’, anything goes slack culture, as I read the accusation, is the norm — being a playworker doesn’t mean that we don’t take children’s physical safety, or safeguarding of welfare, or stances on bullying and the like lightly; the ‘liberal accusation’ cannot, or will not, see the nuances of all that is observed, felt, intuited, there and then considered, in-the-moment referenced from the playwork literature, experienced, reflected upon, that the on-going deliberation and action that the practice of playwork is. Just as children’s play is serious, so is playwork.


What’s in the observation of play?

In the observation of play, what is it that we feel? Or rather, why is it that we feel the way we do about that play? I ask these questions of myself, this week, but I also ask them of others in passing: there often seems to be a mutual adult appreciation of children’s play. Call it ‘appreciation’, ‘wonder’, ‘awe’, or any other word. Why is that?

Of course, this line of thinking doesn’t always apply. When children’s play becomes just a little too ‘beyond the edges’ of coping of any given adult, there’s no such appreciation. These adult edges are individual to each adult but often seem to have common themes: children’s physically risky play, play that involves a minor or major subversion of the norm or ‘the rules’, children swearing, children throwing things around, not sharing things, or any other sort of ‘not doing what’s generally seen as agreeable’. Just the other day I was walking down the street, in my own world, when I saw a couple of children playing out in the cul-de-sac. A woman soon appeared, shoving a pushchair up the road (presumably the mother), and she yelled at the children to stop jumping around. One child told her, without whining, just matter-of-factly, that they were dancing. The two children carried on dancing, much to the woman’s annoyance.

I hadn’t registered that they were dancing; I hadn’t stopped; I hadn’t even had a chance to consciously recognise that this was play here in front of me. I had, however, and on reflection, unconsciously recognised that something unusually usual was taking place here.

Take your children to the swimming pool and pay attention to what happens: you see adults diligently doing lengths, up and down, up and down, plodding away joylessly, and presumably with some self-improving goal in mind; turn your attention back to the children and there’s a bag of eels slopping around in all sorts of unpredictable configurations, in and out of the water, over the floats, and in and out of the pool.

Observing the play of children is like trying to keep track of the eddies and flow of a stream: you try to see where it all begins, or where it’s going, or how patterns might be forming in the flow, and it doesn’t matter how long you do that for because you’ll never find it. When we observe play, we can get hypnotised. What are we looking for in it all?

In playwork observation we know we observe for various reasons: to learn about play more than we know about it now; to try to understand about the use of various resources and environments; to inform our reflections on how we can best work to support and respond to the play. There’s something more to it too though: whisper it quietly because, although we know (or we should know) that children’s play is not about us, that we’re in service to the play . . . there is a small part of us that’s fascinated by the play that we’re seeing. It’s not just confined to the playworkers of the world: if it’s play that a non-playworker can accept as being play, then there’s that same appreciation, wonder, awe on their faces.

It might be wrapped up in phrases such as ‘that’s nice’, ‘how lovely’, or the like, but the core of it’s still along the lines of wonder. Why is that? Perhaps the whole ‘unplayed-out material’ thing (as Gordon Sturrock has it) does come into force here: that adults have an appreciation of their own child-play, deep down, and maybe there’s a need for it to be reignited again (even if only briefly). Some adults take this to the extreme, of course, and impact on the play of the children to such a degree that the children don’t get a look in. Do all adults have a certain degree of unplayed-out material?

Perhaps there’s a deep-seated need in all of us to escape the confines of what we call the real world. We escape sometimes by way of our own adult play; sometimes by impinging on the play of children to the extent of ruining it all for them; sometimes by observation of the possibilities of those ‘infinite variabilities’ of play. That we’re somewhat locked in to largely inflexible patterns in our adult lives (or so we might feel), may well lead us to those dopey-eyed expressions of wonder in the observation of children’s play. We’re troubled because we feel contained, and we’ve lost our naiveties. That naivety will never come back, so all we can do is envy and admire those who are more advanced in their fantasy creations than we are.

This notion of unpredictability might also come into the reckoning: it’s somewhat ironic to think that many adults seem to like the idea of a well-ordered, structured society in which everything ticks along for the good of everyone, yet in some deeper realm might they be in desperate personal need of a little of the opposite? In the seemingly chaotic scheme of things — under the control of the child player — unpredictability is embraced and tackled as it comes (not feared and shunned, as it tends to be in the adult world).

If we dare to delve just a little deeper, might we find a lurking desire to be in contact with all that is a subversion of the ‘norm’? That is, ticking along is all well and good and suits many people, but isn’t it all a little . . . dull? Subversion is exciting and full of life. Play is a rebellion in itself. How much do we each have a desire to rebel?

We might observe in order to learn about play, and to understand the use of resources and environments, but we might also be in a state of wonder, awe, appreciation because we have our rebellious streaks; because we envy the ability to embrace the unpredictable; because we admire the creative impulses; because we’re still driven — at least in part, even as adults — by the innate need to play, or at least to be in visual contact with it. Knowing how not to let our own play drives obliterate, or even slightly deflect the play of children, is key here though.

This week I made observations of a student for her playwork studies at the play setting where she works. As we were talking, and over her shoulder, my attention was caught by the sight of one of the younger boys as he grappled with some large Jenga blocks. He was building with them, but then he started skidding them along the floor. I don’t know why. He was soon joined by some other children. I don’t know what I was looking for when I observed this, nor do I know where or how it all shifted or where it was going. I just know that the play took my attention.

I spent a good part of this afternoon sat in the sun, up on the decking at the top of the garden and sat at the wooden table: a two year old and a four year old were flipping mounds of little plastic counters around, before they graduated to poking them through the holes in the boards, and then the youngest got up onto the table to scatter the whole array of coloured counters, buttons, various plastic pegs and paper and tin foil plates and boxes across the table and benches and onto the ground. He looked greatly pleased with himself, as a baby dinosaur might do if munching his way through a herd of weaker, smaller mammals not destined to evolve. I felt fine in returning the play cues, being part of the whole scheme of things at the children’s behest . . . and then there was just one moment of quite consciously needing things not to get poked into holes (though I really don’t know why) before the moment evaporated. Many more things got scattered and thrown around and poked into holes and slots between the boards. Que sera sera . . .

I was part of it, of course, but I was also able to watch on from a short distance: it was a small incidence of rebellion; of unpredictability; of admiration of the creative impulse in the development of the play frame (and in the destructive); of a need to be in visual contact with that play. The play wasn’t about me, but the observation of the play did affect me, and I have a need to know why this is and why it seems to affect many adults in similar ways.

Disorder as the natural tendency

Sometimes my writing for this blog comes about by way of thinking on recent media interest around children or their play, and then dropping into that thinking other ideas . . . this week I drop ‘entropy’ into the mix.

Entropy, according to a recent BBC News Science and Environment report, can be explained in terms of ‘the Universe tends, in general, to a more disordered state’.

What’s doing the rounds at the moment is Conservative MP Liz Truss and her condemnation of nurseries (whose children, she says, are ‘running around with no sense of purpose’). This playworker doesn’t think of the ideas of ‘manners’ and ‘discipline’, as Ms Truss seems to think; this playworker thinks of the ideas of ‘disorder’ and ‘entropy’ when he thinks about ‘running around with no sense of purpose’.

That the Universe itself can be seen as something that is inevitably marching headlong into a state of ultimate disorder is reassuring, in a way. The BBC report also adds a side-note (linked to the laws of thermodynamics) that ‘everything, everywhere, is at least a little bit disordered’. Everything heads that way.

A variable in this thinking is the amount of time things might take. Systems go from order to ultimate disorder, eventually or quickly. If we consider that ‘putting energy’ into a system can create order, we should also consider the idea that everything can be affected by something else; therefore, that ‘affecting of the system’ isn’t ordering it at all. Let’s put this into context:

I know full well, from experience of doing and from observing, that a group of children (I’ll use this as an idea of a ‘system’) can be affected both by leaving it to its own devices (hence the inevitable tendency towards disorder) and by imposing too much on it (trying to create some order, but in effect just affecting that march towards disorder in other ways). By ‘disorder’ I don’t mean to colour that word with negative connotations; though, admittedly, the word ‘order’ is more coloured in such ways.

‘Order’, in the context of this thinking, is the word used for the aimed-for state when attempting the action of control. It can also be seen as the dead, lifeless zone. What happens, at a simplistic level, whenever someone wants to impose too much control on someone else? There’s some degree of rebellion, perhaps. It might take years, or it might take a lot less time, but attempts at control are bound to affect individuals. Some people defer completely to being controlled. It’s the easy route, but it’s also the way that’s been imposed on them and they know no different. Being controlled may well result in more attempted controllers. There is a subsequent potential lack in thinking.

To think we need positions or perspectives to think from. The BBC report (which is titled ‘Entropy law linked to intelligence’) suggests the following:

The simplistic model considers a number of examples, such as a pendulum hanging from a moving cart. Simulations of the . . . entropy idea show that the pendulum ends up pointing upward — an unstable situation, but one from which the pendulum can explore a wider variety of positions.

Further simulations showed how the same idea could drive the development of tool use, social network formation, and co-operation . . .

We already know that play functions as a way of finding out, as a way of providing the player with the possibility of more options. Play is fundamentally disordered in process. If we see order as basically static, disorder is dynamic. Everything tends towards disorder and everything, everywhere, is at least a little bit disordered. In this way of thinking, not only is ‘order’ impossible but it’s also pointless trying to impose it (because it’s impossible). The only reason to try to impose it must be in attempting to control, and the only reason for this must be in attempting to create some purpose for the self.

Why do children need manners? Because that’s what society demands; because society is what I have to live in; because if I have to have manners so do others; if others haven’t got manners, and I have, and I have to live in a society that demands manners, then I should instruct others how to have manners; because now I have a purpose; because If I have no purpose, what is the point of me?

I don’t think like this personally, I hasten to add. I have other, different, traits which I won’t bore you with now!

Liz Truss, apparently, does not like children running around without a sense of purpose. Perhaps, with purpose, they would then be ‘useful members’ of society, able to aid that society in its own purpose: the instruction of others in how to act. ‘Order’ would be achieved, and with it a deficit in thinking (because what thought do we need when everything, like morality, is decided for us?), and with it a lack of potential wider variety of positions from which to think from (positions which have, in the past, driven us to explore tool use, social network formation, and co-operation) . . .

The argument could go on and on and round and round (at least this would be a dynamic situation though, one in which ideas and exchanges could flow, rather than a static acceptance: a dead state of being).

In short, and in summary, it is the huge expanse of children’s play ‘disorder’ that should be recognised in our society, of expression and creation, of trial and error and running around without purpose, rather than the aim of ‘order’ by manners and so forth. Ideas such as how to respond to others, right and wrong, and suchlike can be explored through the child’s play (as opposed to being told, and blindly following, these ways of acting by others). Over-zealous attempts at order can create unhealthy minds.

Disorder is the natural tendency.

Children’s play is not about you

A message to adult readers: children’s play is not about you. Really. Children’s play is their play. Playworkers are unique amongst adults who work with children: true playworkers are focused on play — not on educational outcomes (as teachers will be), on preparation or foundation for future years (as early years workers will be), on law and order and fitting in with rules and regulations (as, say, police community support officers will be). Playworkers work with the child’s agenda, not with the adult’s agenda.

There are so many adults, for one reason or another, who can’t or won’t get this though. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told that children ‘have to respect the rules, because I have to’; that children ‘should conform to society, because we all have to’; that children should ‘play the way I want them to, because I don’t like noise or mess or anything I think is too risky for them.’ Adults — it’s not about you.

So, I reply to them with a question: Why can’t children choose to do what they want to do? There’s usually a direct and quick response, along the lines of, ‘Well, then there’d be anarchy, wouldn’t there? We can’t have that.’ This shows me two things: (i) that the adult in question doesn’t understand what ‘anarchy’ is really about (but that’s another story); (ii) the adult in question is a product of the system that this country, the UK, is unfortunately churning out, i.e. you must conform to the way things are.

So, children’s self-expressions, making noise, making mess, rough and tumbling, engaging in risky play, etc, are becoming more and more frowned upon: regarded as ‘abnormal’, ‘anti-social’, ‘undesirable’ because these behaviours don’t fit with the dominant adult desire to have things their own way — the adult need to control. Why do adults control? Perhaps adults feel controlled themselves, powerless themselves, and need to control and have power over others to balance things up.

Children, and by extension their play, are easy targets. However, children’s play should not be treated with such contempt. I imagine a bunch of adults standing around, each with a handful of marbles — one adult grabs the marbles of another and announces, ‘Now, that’s mine.’ I imagine a bunch of adults standing around, each with a handful of children’s play . . .

Children’s play is not about you. It’s not about what you want. Children’s play belongs to the children.

What do adults want from children’s play? What are the adult agendas? They want children to learn information; to learn how to do things; to learn how to be (or how the adults want them to be) with other people; to run around so they don’t get fat; to not try things out because they think they, the adults, have a better way of doing it; to not slip or fall or hurt themselves in any way. On the face of it, most of these things have a place in care or education environments. This isn’t to suggest that playworkers don’t ‘care’: of course they do. Playworkers care greatly. Perhaps that’s why we get so worked up about these sorts of conversations. Playworkers care about the play of children (and, of course, the children themselves), and play is more important than I can say in just a few lines.

As a playworker, I’ve observed children’s play for many years, and I’ve learnt a great deal. I can only be an absolute authority on my own play though. When I played, as a child, I didn’t go into that play — consciously — in order to learn factual information, or how to make something, or how to share, or how not to be obese, or how to prove that adults were right, or how to carry out personal risk assessments. I might have got a lot of information out of my play as a result of playing, but why did I play? Why did I go into my play?

I played in the woods because they were interesting and dark and wet and close and sunlit and just down the road.

I played on top of the old bungalow because there was an overgrown garden full of somebody else’s eggs and brown sauce and flour, and so I used them to trash the place.

I played on my bike, going round and round the block, just because I wanted to make it to a hundred circuits.

I played by putting snails in empty drinks cans and putting them in the middle of the road, then sitting under the bridge to watch, because I was curious.

I played in the stream by the lake, scooping along in the shallows, because I liked the feel of the water on me and the breeze in my hair.

I played football up against someone else’s house because that was where I found myself when I decided that I needed to play football; because the wall was a good sized wall; because there was a bit of a slope that bounced the ball back at me at unexpected angles.

I played by ‘selling’ comics to other children on my front door step because I had comics and because the hallway made a good shop and because other children were interested in my comics.

I played football with other children because I liked football.

I played by standing at the end of the street with the children from that end, and we talked about our dreams because I was fascinated that other children had had the same dreams as me (or, they said they did!)

I played by sliding down the stairs in a sleeping bag because the sleeping bag was slippery and because the stairs made you go fast.

I played on top of the living room table because that was the best way, at the time, to get from one part of the room to another without touching the floor.

I played with my sister and brother by communicating through the central heating grills, each of us in different rooms, because I thought this was a good way to communicate, and because I imagined this to be our own secret way of communicating: a way that the adults couldn’t hear!

I played by standing on the edge of the parapet above the garage, maybe a twenty feet drop to the road, because this was a drop that needed looking down on from the edge . . .

In my play, I wasn’t thinking about conquering my fears, or developing my confidence or self-esteem, about sharing with others, about learning how to pedal or how to kick a ball coming at me at unexpected angles. I wasn’t thinking about my fine or gross motor skills, about my cognitive awareness, or the developmental outcomes of any kind. I wasn’t thinking about the feelings of other people inside the houses around me, or about the feelings of the other children I played with: if they didn’t like me that day, or if they didn’t like what I was doing, they told me; so, I went off and played on my own. That’s life.

My play was my play. It wasn’t the construct of adults: it wasn’t adult-directed, or shaped, or suggested to me. It wasn’t about the adults.

Children’s play, my fellow adults, is not — or should not be — about you. If it is, it isn’t children’s play.

An adult affect in play settings

‘Human beings are predisposed to satisfy certain archetypal needs . . . if the environment does not fulfil those needs, then psychopathology will result.’

Bob Hughes (2012), Evolutionary Playwork, p.50, referring to Stevens and Price (1996), Evolutionary Psychiatry.
Play environments. Environments where play can happen. Playable spaces and places. Play might be everywhere, or can happen in many places. Being able to stand back and separate the woods from the trees is a luxury in some respects: I’m thinking here and now about all the play settings I’ve visited over the years. Of course, I can’t remember every one of them, but the investigation process of ‘things that are common’ started a long time ago.

I have to be careful with what I’m about to say. We adults can be a little touchy when it comes to certain statements: sometimes we think someone is attacking us personally. Here’s the statement: some play settings can have quite repressive feels.

OK, so some play settings are staffed by certain adults who very consciously and deliberately go out of their way to have it all their way. Statements I’ve heard such as ‘I’m a control freak; I need order; I want children to play in a certain way’, spring to mind. Elsewhere, there are more subtle repressions in place. In other play settings, there’s an unintended hampering of the children’s play.

What does this do to the children? There’s a whole thesis to be written by someone, somewhere on this. I have a limited space here. In the limited space of a repressive play setting (the adult-imposed limitations as well as the physical limitations, i.e. the human affect is important too), what happens to the children? Total unthinking obedience? Fear? Timidity? Reliance on the adults?

Looking at Hughes’ writing again in a little more detail:

Human beings are predisposed to satisfy certain archetypal needs [simply speaking, not being able to engage, in this case, in certain forms of play that are common to everyone].

If the environment does not fulfil those needs, then psychopathology will result [psychopathology being variously described as: abnormal, maladaptive behaviour; the manifestation of a mental or behavioural disorder].

Repressive environments go some way towards creating mental and behavioural disorders?

What happens when that repressive culture is lifted? Perhaps there’s a lingering after-effect that takes place. What I infer from Hughes’ writing is that, if I haven’t got the post-repressive environment right in a setting I’m working in, then psychopathologised behaviours will also be exhibited. It is a journey of recovery that must be taken.

Once, in a play setting, I observed as children – who had been chaotically engaged in post-repressive play – became absorbed in what I thought of as ‘primitive’ bow-and-arrow play. The play happened by accident. One child found a stick and took it indoors. He wanted something, ‘just something’, to make it into a bow. He found elastic. He created a bow and arrow and other children did the same. It wasn’t adult-led or structured play. The children seemed calm that day. This recapitulative play was intriguing in its calming effect.

Just to throw a spanner in the works of this progression from repression and psychopathology to recapitulation and calmness/coming back from chaos, an area of thought I’ve been interested in for a while springs to mind:

In his book, No Fear (2007), p.78, Tim Gill refers to the Institute of Psychiatry’s claim of a doubling of emotional/behavioural conduct problems amongst children and young people in the UK between 1974 and 1999. However, he goes on to write that behaviours once seen as the norm (e.g. quarrels, tantrums, introspection, playfighting) have now been pathologised as psychological problems.

In other words, children’s play is seen differently as time goes by (despite children doing the things other generations did, or even that our earlier ancestors did). Could it be that, the more that repressive play settings become the norm, the more the resultant children’s behaviours of unthinking obedience, fear, timidity, or reliance on the adults are seen to be ‘the norm’?

Sterilised play; sterilised childhood.

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