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

Posts tagged ‘play types’

Play and language

For a couple of weeks now, on and off, and as touched upon in my previous post, I’ve been quietly observing the way that two particular children are playing. Theirs is a forming relationship, with no ‘outcome’ or ‘yes, we’re there’ about it (I don’t know the beginning of it and it almost feels as if there was no beginning: it just happened). What fascinates the most about this forming play and relationship between these two girls is that one of them doesn’t speak English (or, if she speaks a little, it’s rarely heard). In fact, this younger child of around eight or nine, I suppose, barely says anything to us at all. She has, however, almost always been in play with the other girl.

One simple observation highlights, I trust, my fascination of the play: I was standing up high, up out of the way of things one day, for a few minutes, when I saw the two girls over by the sandpit. One of them had dragged over the old buggy we have on site, which I’ve been surprised to find gets its fair use in the play. I couldn’t hear what was being said, if anything at all, but the girl who spoke no English clearly had ideas in the narrative of the play she wanted to unfold. By means of pointing and double pointing, gesturing towards the buggy, and other hand and facial gestures, the suggestion seemed to be that one of the children would be the baby, in the buggy, and the other would play a different role. Then they swapped. This needed no words, it seemed.

I’ve really wanted to ask the girl who does speak English what’s going on in the play. However, this I know wouldn’t be good because then I’m effectively asking the child to analyse her play (in a low level kind of way). So, I haven’t asked, though I want to know about the way the girls communicate from an insider’s point of view. I speak to the girl who doesn’t speak English, on occasion, as she passes by on the playground and if she looks my way, though the other child, I remember once said, ‘She doesn’t speak English, you know?’ and this is all I know directly from her.

I have known adults who have been of the opinion that children can’t possibly interact without a common language. They’ve said it in so many words. This is, of course, theoretically and observationally rubbish. I’m reminded of a time, over twenty years ago now, when I lived and worked in Germany for a short while. I was at a Jugendhaus (Youth House), and whilst I attempted to use my abbreviated German in my interactions in the play, what I found was that, ultimately, I didn’t need this or English. When we connect, we connect, and (following a small digression here) one child showed me that this had happened with the paper offering she’d made me. Such small things are significant, or can be, and can last a long time. Only recently, I was offered a token of gratitude, as I read it, from a child I made time for, she having gone out of her way to make her gift. She didn’t say what the gift was for. A failure to be able to converse in mutual languages yet to connect in other ways, in the significance of my memory, has also taken place in Holland and in Sweden, to name just two other examples (my favourite stories of being on a plane in Amsterdam — where a child cleverly communicated to me without words, and whilst visiting an outside school near Stockholm — where a child gave me an offering for whatever reason she chose).

Tokens of gratitude are not what we do the job for, but these things are written here to show that children can communicate in ways we don’t often do in the adult world. Sometimes, the tokens and offerings aren’t made things at all; rather, they’re gestures of connection for communications made or listening having taken place, or they’re thanks in other ways. When children tell you the simple tales of their day-to-days, what positives can you glean from them having chosen to tell you these instead of anyone else?

It works in other ways too. I watch on, sometimes, as my colleagues engage in certain on-going conversations with certain children, relating, understanding, or learning to understand them: then, those children choose those adults to tip a bucket of water over, to swear at in exaggerated fashion, or to lie to in such a way because they know that that adult can and will take it, or will accept it, or will intuitively know that what is being said beneath isn’t what is being said.

Returning to the child who doesn’t speak English and the child who does and to their play: in the brief moments when they’ve not been in the play together, for whatever reason, I have seen that there’s almost a magnetic pulling of one back to the other. They have sought each other out, and they have found each other on the playground somewhere, before going off poking around the hidey holes of the place again. The bond of play, of other forms of communicating, has become strong for these two children.

Today, the child who doesn’t speak English was on the playground but the other girl wasn’t there. I noticed this early on because it felt unusual to see the first child unattached as she was. A little later though, near the gate, I noticed another girl, a little older, was talking with her, in English, and this child looked at me and said (half to me, half speaking out loud in mock exasperation) ‘I don’t know how to say this in Italian!’ I told her I didn’t know either. The girls played though. Later, I saw them inside together sat on the sofa. One of the boys was saying his only Italian word at the girls, in exaggerated fashion, being (as he translated) ‘Cheese! Cheese!’ I hit on the idea of bringing the laptop out and communicating through Google Translate. It took the girl who didn’t speak English a little while to figure out what the other girl was trying to type in, and that she could type back, but eventually it happened. In returning to the main theme of this writing though, the girl who didn’t speak English indicated she wanted the other girl to go outside with her. The English-speaking girl came running in a few minutes later, banging on the office door. ‘I only need one thing,’ she said. ‘Tell me how to say do you want to play?’ I don’t think she even needed this: another pairing had bonded via play.

Of course, we see this bonding all the time in various formations of children on the playground: there are small pockets of players who gravitate to one another, and there are larger pockets who disperse and re-form in almost tribal fashion when anything significant is about to happen. The bonding can cross the socio-economic and ethnic parcelling that the adult world seems to like to create so much. There are common denominators of play, but the play and bonding could also be seen in terms of children’s connection in awareness of mischievous intent, in their latent or repressed types of play (or play types engaged in), in their calculated intentions to disrupt, and so on.

Positively play is, in short, often beyond words and the need for words. Connections are deep-seated, or become this way, and play is glue (wishing to avoid the instrumental rhetoric of words and phrases such as ‘play is a tool for xyz’): play is glue, or magnetic.
 
 

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Draft thoughts on depth immersion, play observation

Once, I remember a conversation with Bob Hughes along the lines of: observe the background. As the summer season on the playground is now in full swing, this advice comes back to me time and again as I stand in a position in the middle of the edge of things, out of the way, looking for the optimum ‘X marks the spot’ widest cone of vision. When you find the sweet spot, invisibility can kick in. Why does this matter? Sometimes, often, children can change the way they play, the way they act (as in ‘action’ and as in ‘perform’), the way they are, with the metaphorical lens firmly directed their way. Why is it then that this ‘purest of play, unadulterated by us’-ness is important?

In discussion this week with a colleague, the conversation flowed into the idea of ‘better play’. We’re there to make sure that ‘better play’ can happen, was the suggestion; to which I responded, how can there be a distinction between ‘play’ and ‘better play’? Can we put a qualitative value on any given instance of play observed? We can make better play environments by way of consideration of the space use, resources, our own actions, interactions, interventions and so on, but play is play, surely? There is ‘better play as observed’ and ‘better play from the perspective of the playing child’ to also consider here. When I think back to my own play as a child, how can I say that my bike riding of a hundred laps of the local square was ‘better play’ than my hiding in the bushes, or better than my standing leaning over the prospect of a sheer vertical drop, or better than my playing ‘anything goes football-rugby’ in the dining room?

So now, as I write, I write about the ‘purest of play’. Which is it to be? Is this pure, unadulterated, observed but not imposed upon play of the background on the playground ‘better’, or more desirable, than the close-by ‘changed because it’s being observed’ play of the foreground? Who is it more desirable to? That is, sure children may want to play in their own way, for their own reasons, without undue interruption by adults (which is desirable for them), but playworkers also have an urgent need for children to play in that way too. What’s in this for us? That is, why do we have this need to observe children playing without our interruption?

When teaching the whole ‘why observe?’ thing, it’s difficult to go any deeper in than really scratching the surface. Sure, we can say that we observe to learn about play, to consider individual play needs and preferences, to comprehend the impact of resources and colleagues on the play, to make judgements about access to various play types, and so on, but we can’t really teach that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that many playworkers seem to have in the moment of observation: that is, that sense, emotion, feeling, immersion, connection, call it what you will (and I don’t even know what to call it here) that goes far deeper than observing in order to learn about play, individual play needs and preferences, comprehension of resources, colleagues’ impact, play types, etc. Explaining what this ‘je ne sais quoi’ is is like trying to teach empathy . . .

Let’s just say that, for me, observation of play is an immersive experience that is necessary. In the moment I may not ‘learn’ any great insight, but a book is not made of just one page. In fact, the analogy is apt because when reading a book, if it’s a book that intrigues, the world outside those covers no longer matters. The world outside still impacts on the reading experience, but it can be put on hold and ignored for a while. The playground as book. For some of us the book’s covers aren’t defined by the playground’s perimeter fence: the book doesn’t close.

The other day I tried to explain what I did for a living to a family member I’d not seen for a while. I didn’t go into any of the above, but I did say that I work on the playground and I observe. I added that it wasn’t as simple as I made it sound. In a way, that conversation was also a catalyst for this writing today. The other elements to feed in here are recent considerations of various playwork styles (and by extension, our cones of vision in the observing on the playground), and our other developing ways of observing.

I’m aware that I like to wander the playground to see as much as I can at any given moment. Colleagues, I notice, might do the same, or I might do a visual sweep of the playground and find them sat quietly up on some steps watching out, or they’re immersed in conversation or play invitation with a child or small group of children, or they’re running, chasing, being chased with water balloons, or tidying, resourcing, heads up, or heads down, or building, or fixing. What they see I can’t say: that is, they see the play, they feel it, sense it, as I do, but what that ‘je ne sais quoi’ of observing for them is, I can’t say. I don’t yet know how to frame the question to them.

In our other developing ways of observing, we sometimes sit with the ‘video’ button on on the camera. Observing the background in this way benefits at least two-fold: in the first instance, children are less aware of it from a hundred yards or so away, if at all; in the second instance, the things that were clearly in front of the camera-holder at the time, foreground or background, but which only become apparent on play-back, can be a fascination in themselves. However, unless the camera becomes as invisible as the unobtrusive playworker, it will often be an instrument that will change the play.

Does this matter? Is the play any worse off for being observed, either by eye or by camera? Some play happens because the act of observation makes it happen, when it wouldn’t have happened without the observing taking place. In the end, here, I can’t draw any definite conclusions. I offer up these thoughts on observation as a means of reflection and as a means of suggestion to other playworkers, asking: What is it that observation is for you? What is the ‘je ne sais quoi’ you get from it? Observation goes deeper than just seeing the play.
 
 

Ten (ish) commandments of playwork: offers for thinking about

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!)

So, discuss.
 
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).
 
 

Grace and civility in the city

I’ve done a fair amount of travelling around the past few weeks, and what strikes me is the degree of play ‘out there’. I’ve not got anything particularly new to say here, perhaps (Huizinga did a pretty good job of analysing ‘the play element in culture’ over half a century ago); however, it is worth thinking through again and again, adding in recent perspectives and observations, because it just doesn’t look like this country (UK), at least, is seeing the whole picture. There’s so much adult play going on out there, in the city, but children’s play is marginalised.

The playwork field knows this, yet we’re still seen variously as ‘those bloody hippies’, or lefties, or angsty wannabe revolutionaries or the like. Maybe some of us are some of these things, but time and again those who do truly stick up for children’s rights to just play aren’t taken seriously. Where’s the educational attainment? Where are the outcomes and the end products and the perfectly formed, neatly socialised individuals popping out the other end of the sausage machine? There is no sausage machine. Play happens.

Or, rather, play should happen, out there, out and about, or be given the chance to happen, but it doesn’t: not always. Walking through London streets recently I was struck by all the playable spaces: there were gleaming bollards to weave around, wide walkways to run down, green spaces to jump around in; there were several great, huge, pristinely-piled stacks of leaves marching down the edge of one street on a busy thoroughfare. There was enough space around them for potential players not to get caught up with passing buses and bikes and the like. Maybe the leaves had only just been piled there; or maybe it just isn’t acceptable for children to make use of such playable possibilities. I had a very definite urge to jump in as I passed by. I resisted but I don’t know why.

Out on the streets and in the bars and on the Underground though, there are adult players everywhere. Everyone, it seems, is plugged into something small and flat and glass-screened. I looked over people’s shoulders on the Tube, thinking they were emailing or the like, but they were zapping various aliens instead. I watched as one young woman held a conversation with a young man in a suit. She idly jumped her avatar over walls and bridges, flicking with a thumb as if bored by it but as if it were all still absolutely necessary: that she had to do more than one thing at a time, still talking to the man. Don’t people stare out of windows, even in tunnels, or people-watch, any more?

Our pubs are temples to our hedonism and escapism. There may even be all the play types here, if we look hard enough. In the tunnels there are musicians; odd men sing and shout at cash machines; there are street artists and dancers; people race each other along the pathways and in their cars; some people frequent the corners of bars, focused entirely on their partners, really in need of getting a room! It’s all play and there are no specific places for that play to happen. People drink on the streets, sing and dance and race anywhere they like, if they feel it in them to do that.

Children, on the other hand, are restricted to the authorised, ‘acceptable’ play ghettos sprinkled around. There’s no telling what mayhem might happen, you see, if they ever escaped and spilled out onto the street. Imagine, dancing around on the paving slabs? Or what about children racing their mates around the pavement bollards? Think of the adults . . . they’d have these mad, chaotic, dangerous creatures all around them, tripping them up and causing safety hazards. Life would be ridiculous in the city. Imagine if there were some children standing at the cash machine making up odd, hilarious only to themselves word arrangements, shouting it out to the rest of that corner of the city. It’s not like if an adult did this: we can all walk by ignoring the mad old man doing something like this, or the self-styled preacher at the church gates shouting out all his odd, meaningful only to himself word arrangements and beliefs. We can’t ignore children doing this though.

Why is this? Of course, I’ve given my opinion on things like this on this blog plenty of times before, but I’ll go over old ground for these newer observations: adults fear children, have a need for control, a need for their own purpose, a phobia of the seemingly ‘chaotic’: well, plenty of adults do, though admittedly not all of them. The groundswell of opinion does seem to be weighted against the children though. ‘Be civilised’ seems to be the dominant condition of adult need when it comes to children. It does call into question what ‘civilisation’ amounts to.

Like empathy or grace, we can’t make someone else be or do civility. We can smile and laugh when we see beauty and grace though. The other day I was eating lunch in a public café area, minding my own business, and two toddlers were skirting around, not eating their own lunch. They kept poking around the edges of where I was, stopping, looking, smiling, offering the tiniest of play cues with their facial expressions. Later, they were still there when I moved outside. I saw them pressed against the window, so I got down to their level and they placed their palms against the glass. We played on either side of the window. Their mother was nearby and she was fine with the play. If these interactions — although minor on the face of it — adults and children, could be allowed their replication, out and out, on and on in the city and the country, there would be grace and civility, as such.

We tolerate drunks and the possibly delusional on our streets, the racers who could cause actual harm, the loudness of musicians and singers when we’re trying to sleep, and so on, and we say this is civilisation. Yes, so this is play maybe, adult play, but if a child runs and screams at a pile of pristine leaves, or if a child stands up high and chants a favourite song, say, then this is uncivilised and must be stopped.

Where there is knowledge of ‘this is play’, there is grace. Where there is grace, there is civility. Perhaps we could look up from our screens and see. We can experience the world out there for a change.
 
 

The long dark tea-time of the search term (or, backstage at the playwork blog gig)

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.

The first claim: a framework for playwork quality assessment: Bob Hughes (2001)

Play types: speculations and possibilities: Bob Hughes (2006)

Reflective playwork: Jacky Kilvington and Ali Wood (2010)

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.

Of the other two items on the top searches, here’s my take on UK age discrimination, and that cartoon for your amusement and viewing pleasure (and mine) is here.

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.
 
 

Advice for playwork glossary writers

‘I wish to register a complaint,’ (as Monty Python had it!) ‘We’re closing for lunch. Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.’ [End quote]. The parrot in this analogy is the glossary of playwork terms as can be found at, for example, the CACHE website. They’re dead; that is, they’re wrong. Well, some of them are at least. Here’s my complaint: as a playwork trainer, how can my learners be expected to learn certain things if the qualification awarding body hasn’t got it right?

You’re forewarned: this post could get a little technical and lengthy. I realise that it could end up being a very niche one, i.e. only for those in the UK for whom playwork qualifications are a concern. So, I intend to widen the scope a little in what I’m about to write; this being: (i) Details of my complaint for that niche readership; (ii) Focus on one particular area of concern (namely, that which playworkers know as ‘the play cycle’, within something known as ‘psycholudics’), which will also serve as an introduction to those not familiar with the concepts; (iii) Brief analysis of aspects related to the play cycle within psycholudics, for playworkers and non-playworkers alike.

So, onto my complaint. The glossary linked to, at the time of writing, on the CACHE site (other awarding bodies are available) states that ‘the [play] cycle includes the metalude, the cue, the return, the frame, adulteration, annihilation and display [sic].’ Where do I start here? I’ve wanted to write a little something on psycholudics for a while now because it crops up regularly in search engine results, as listed on my WordPress dashboard. So, if this is you looking for psycholudics and/or the play cycle, let me just start by saying that the CACHE glossary isn’t accurate.

The best place to go for information on psycholudics will be the source, i.e. the Ludemos site. There you’ll find the Colorado Paper (1998), written by Gordon Sturrock and Perry Else. It’s a heavy read, I won’t lie, but it’s an important read. The trouble is, because it can be a bit heavy-going in places, it’s been watered down somewhat in the sector. I’m afraid I shall need to do the same here for the sake of brevity in this post, though I recommend that you also read the real deal (go to Ludemos).

Psycholudics, ‘the study of the mind and psyche at play’, is drawn from the psychoanalytic work of those such as D. W. Winnicott (1896-1971). The play cycle, or the ‘play process’, being part of the paper above, is written in the Ludemos glossary as consisting of:

‘the full exchange of play from the child’s first play cue, the establishment of the play frame, the perceived return from the outside world, the child’s response to the return, and the further development of play to the point where the play is complete and so ended or annihilated.’

So, to my complaint: this authoritative source has morphed into, for example, the CACHE glossary’s version, which I shall repeat again here: ‘the [play] cycle includes the metalude, the cue, the return, the frame, adulteration, annihilation and display [sic].’

The latter is wrong. Playwork learners are being misinformed.

The watering down process, in playwork training, has amounted to the play cycle coming to be known as (and I’ll briefly explain each shortly): metalude, cue, return, frame, flow, annihilation.

Whilst Sturrock and Else themselves haven’t included ‘metalude’ in their own glossary definition of the play cycle, for greater clarity I suspect, they can be forgiven because they wrote it! However, something I’ve just noticed is that on their overview page, they write that ‘play drive’ and ‘metalude’ (see below) amount to the same thing. I wondered where my learners had got this from!

Let’s go back a step. From the Colorado Paper, Sturrock and Else write that the play drive, or ludido (I told you it can be heavy-going in places!), ‘could be precisely seen as the active agency of an evolving consciousness’. OK, so this play drive/ludido then is one of the things that makes us tick: a drive or an urge to play.

Regarding metalude, they say: ‘a part of the play drive or ludido is sustained in a deeply internalised form of fantasy play . . . the source point and beginning of the function of internalised gestalt formation [‘shape’ of play] within the play process.’ It’s the daydreaming before the visible signs of play can be seen, in other words.

Non-playworkers and those new to playwork can, no doubt, already see the difficulties of getting across the complexities of ideas within the Colorado Paper in an accessible and not ‘dumbed-down’ way. I hate dumbing-down. Please don’t take the following in such a way if you’re new to psycholudics:

We generally see the play cycle in terms of: the daydreaming/thinking of the child (metalude); the cue (‘invitation’ to play) from the child in question to other children, or aspects of the environment, or even to adults (so, verbally, sticking out of the tongue, pushing a drawing into someone’s face, etc.); the return of that cue that signifies ‘yes, I’ll play’; the frame, being the psychological and/or physical boundary to the play (this doesn’t relate to ‘boundary’ as in ‘positive/negative behaviour’); the flow of the play, where children are immersed and the play develops in form; annihilation (which I’ve always thought of as a daft technical word, but it must come from somewhere, and so I must ask Perry about that the next time I see him), which means that the child has got what they need from that particular instance of play, and they move on.

When we know these basics, playworkers and non-playworkers alike can observe children’s play in a new light. So, the child who’s sticking out their tongue at you, or throwing scrap materials all around the room, or banging their plate on the table, can be seen to be issuing play cues instead of being ‘naughty’, ‘rude’, ‘disrespectful’, or any other adult-biased phrase we can think of.

Returning to the CACHE summary: ‘the [play] cycle includes the metalude, the cue, the return, the frame, adulteration, annihilation and display [sic].’

How can every play cycle, every instance of play, include adulteration? What’s this? Let’s go back to source (Ludemos glossary): ‘This occurs when the adult dominates or takes over a child’s play for their own purposes, whether those purposes are conscious (working to, say, educational or safety standards) or unconscious (fear, embarrassment, domination).’

Do children only play when adults are around? That’s like the old favourite: if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no-one to hear it, does it really fall at all? Or something like that. No, of course children don’t just play when adults are around. So how can every incidence of a play cycle include adulteration (adult domination), as the CACHE glossary suggests?

Does every play cycle, every instance of play, include ‘display’ [sic]? I write ‘sic’ because ‘sic erat scriptum’ means ‘thus it was written’: an error. I type it out exactly as written because it’s an error. ‘Display’ is something you see in a shop window, perhaps; ‘dysplay’ (as in the Colorado Paper), from the Ludemos glossary is:

‘When the play cues are laden with anxiety. The urgent, frantic play cues offered by children who are unable to complete the play cycle effectively. Children denied choice will be inhibited in their play, the cycle will be incomplete. The play drive will try to compensate with cues that are more urgent or aberrant, perhaps causing conflict with the environment around the child (these anxious cues are called dysplay).’

‘Display’ and ‘dysplay’ are not the same things: one is a pretty art board full of flowers and dinosaurs with missing fingers, say; the other is a complex concern caused by environmental factors including the direct and indirect affect of adults and their attitudes within the play space.

The CACHE glossary could just include a typo, of course, but I suspect the problem doesn’t lie here. There are other glaring errors, of the ‘copy and paste’ variety, where someone has copied and pasted information, including the spelling error, and this suggests to me that they weren’t really checking or knowing what they were doing. The devil is in the details, after all, and ‘dysplay’ is a detail that needs looking at. (So too is the issue of two play types — fantasy play and imaginative play — routinely being mixed up in the guidance literature because someone, somewhere, copied and pasted the wrong examples from the source material). This annoys me no end.

I digress.  Let’s review. Did I meet my aims?

(i) Details of my complaint for that niche [playwork] readership;

(ii) Focus on one particular area of concern (namely, that which playworkers know as ‘the play cycle’, within something known as ‘psycholudics’, which will also serve as an introduction to those not familiar with the concepts;

(iii) Brief analysis of aspects related to the play cycle, for playworkers and non-playworkers alike.

In summary, if complex material such as this needs to be taught (and it does, because the psycholudic understanding offers many new insights into children at play), then the awarding bodies who offer the qualifications (which trainers are expected to make use of/assess by) need to get their information correct.

That means those who do the typing up should ideally know what they’re typing up (kind of like a reflective practice model of ‘plan, do, review’, i.e. ‘copy, paste, review’). Failing that, they should get people in who do know a thing or two about playwork. Those who also have some authority at the tables where these standards are created and reviewed should also spare a thought for the poor learner new to playwork.

I have registered my complaint.
 
Caveat:

I’m quite willing to accept if anything I’ve written above turns out to be a little off the mark. Just tell me if it is and I’ll amend. I’m pretty confident you’ll find my research to be ‘good enough’ (now, Winnicott might be pleased at the oblique reference!)
 
References:

CACHE (2011), Playwork glossary [online]. Available from: www.cache.co.uk (Accessed Jan 25, 2013)

Ludemos (1998-2013), Psycholudics: introduction [online]. Available from: www.ludemos.co.uk (Accessed Jan 25, 2013)

OrangeCow (undated), Dead parrot, as featured in the Flying Circus TV Show Episode 8 [online]. Available from: www.orangecow.org (Accessed Jan 25, 2013)

Sturrock, G. and Else, P. (1998), The playground as therapeutic space: playwork as healing – the Colorado Paper. IPA/USA: Triennial National Conference
 
 

Ways of seeing: play types speculations from children’s perspectives (second set)

How else might children describe their play? Key to thinking this way is observation. In my post of November 16, Ways of seeing: play types speculation from children’s perspectives, I explained the IMEE model of reflection (intuition, memory of own childhood, experience of work with children in adulthood, and evidence of the playwork literature). They’re all relevant, but this week I’ve been considering my recent observations of children at play. How might they describe their play?

It should be remembered, and emphasised (for those landing on this page via search engines and looking for the sixteen currently recognised play types according to Bob Hughes) that my speculations aren’t his play types. That is, my thinking is drawn from Hughes’ work, but the speculations below aren’t his work. All being well, let’s move on.
 
Play types from a child’s perspective: further speculations (unfinished)

My recent observations have led me to thinking on playful behaviours which are, initially, roughly linked with children’s creativity. Of course, I couldn’t just think of such creativity: play has a way of tumbling out of such boxes we put it in. Creativity spilled out into further language play and into linguistic and physical play repetition. This set of speculations isn’t listed alphabetically (as the last set were), because there’s a chain of thinking taking place in my observations.
 
Making play

When a child finds a box of shiny paper, card, cardboard tubes, glitter, glue, etc., and if you have the opportunity to ask what they’re doing, you may very well get the answer that they’re ‘making’. It isn’t always specified what they’re making (sometimes the child doesn’t seem to know themselves: not until it all comes together into something that fits whatever they’re thinking as they ‘make’). Adults have a tendency to try to pin down, exactly, whatever is in the process of being made: that is, to label it. ‘Making play’ is, I suggest, all about the ‘product’ (the robot, the alien, the house, etc.), but it’s a fluid process in ending up at that product.
 
Sticking play

By contrast, ‘sticking play’ is all about the process. A child with access to glue sticks, shiny stickers, things to glue onto other things, etc., will quite often just enjoy the moment of the stickiness. I’ve seen stickiness take place just for the sake of stickiness. Sometimes it might turn into ‘making’, but often it’s just the act of rendering ‘something that was dry’ as sticky, or ‘something not stuck-with’ as now stuck-to, that is the desire of the moment.
 
Angry play

This came about by thinking about what can happen at the end of sticking play (and sometimes making play too). I was thinking about the destruction of the materials used (the card, the paper, the glue stick even — relentlessly rubbed down to its raw plastic!) This is another adult agitation: those things cost money, you know! The child only cares what the thing used becomes, or what it feels like to rip or rub away the former useful thing. ‘Destructive’ isn’t a child word though. What is? What word might I, or other children, have used? I came to ‘angry play’. It’s another one of those words (like ‘fighting’) that seems to have different connotations to adults and some children. Angry, in this context, doesn’t mean angry as we adults know it to mean. Angry, here, means ‘with furious intent’; or better still, it means ‘relentless, quick, Godzilla-like!’
 
Silly play

Where do we go from ‘angry’ (relentless)? Recent observations of children at play have highlighted something that I’ve always known: that that power exertion of angry play has a contrast in the non-power play of just falling around. It’s silly play in child-speak (or whatever word is better in any given other local dialect). From adult perspectives, it’s just as pointless as destructive play (which some would say isn’t play at all, because it’s not ‘productive’). Silly play is futile; yet, it’s a different kind of pointlessness and futility. Silly play has a quality, to the child, that adults often find unable to grasp. I don’t know what the point of silly play is (I’ll have to think more on it!), but I know it involves a lot of flopping around.
 
Real play

Children have some curious expressions. I met a friend’s daughter when she was five, a long time ago. Back then we’d have long conversations, myself and this five year old, in which — invariably — I’d be stopped at some point with some phrase along the lines of: ‘Ah, but in real life . . .’ Real life, in this context, related to the very real context of this five year old’s play life. ‘Real play’, I suggest, is removed from silly play because there is a point to the play (although the child may not be able to articulate exactly what this is, or even want to). Real play covers a multitude of possible actions, but whatever is played, it’s very important that it is played.
 
Again play

I found myself thinking about the repetitive play actions of very young children. This is, perhaps, an offshoot of silly play. It is, perhaps, also an offshoot of real play. If the repetition isn’t cycled through, there seems to be a small breakdown in quality for the child (abstract quality in the possibilities of the physical environment, in play objects, in the relationships with other children and other adults, in trust). It might not seem like much, but there’s much more wrapped up in repetitive play than immediately meets the eye.
 
Chasing play

Of course, this form of playing is nothing new to animal behaviourists. I refer, for example, to studies on monkeys at play (chase/flee interactions, which children also undertake). I include it here in my child-word speculations though because this playful behaviour follows on well from silly/real/again play. It’s not the actual game itself I’m referring to (i.e. tag, tig, it, or whatever regional variation of the game you know — they are all, essentially, the same game anyway). In fact, I’m not even writing here about a ‘game with rules’ at all. I’m writing about the verb that is ‘to chase’. Chasing play is in because I’m thinking here about child verbs and not child nouns or adjectives.

My list is paused again. To be continued further at a later date.
 
 

Ways of seeing: play types speculation from children’s perspectives

How might children describe their play? There is, quite often, a jumping off point in writing, and in thinking about writing, and the jumping off point for this post is this: what are the words that adults use to describe the play that they see?

So, we might use words such as: messy, dangerous, nice, beautiful. Some or all of these come loaded with layers (us adults are built up of layers, like onions, that we’ve absorbed from our own societies, the places where we grew up, the people around us, our genders, our learning or the preferred things we’ve retained, etc). So, ‘messy’ might be loaded with negative or positive, artistically inclined or disrespectful; ‘dangerous’ might be irresponsible or exhilarating; ‘nice’ (my own personal pet hate!) might be loaded with appropriate, adult-friendly, or bland and socially conforming; ‘beautiful’ might be loaded with . . . what?

Adults have a particular way of seeing, and we impose this on children — either directly or indirectly. Children might describe some of their play as ‘nice’ because that’s a value-loaded word handed down to them by adults. How might children describe their play in their own words though? Hang on, I need another jumping off point . . .

Bob Hughes’ play types. The playwork readership of this blog will have these play types etched onto their skins like tattoos! For the non-playwork readership, and briefly, Hughes read a lot (let’s make that one clear), and produced A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types (originally in 1996, added to in 2002). Other taxonomies, classifications and lists are available, but Hughes’ play types have become the currently accepted industry standard. That’s not to say that that’s it, job done, no more need be thought on the matter. In fact, Hughes himself writes:

Although we now acknowledge the current existence of sixteen different types of play — there may be more . . .

Hughes (2012, p.96).

Hughes’ sixteen play types, then:

Communication play, creative play, deep play, dramatic play, exploratory play, fantasy play, imaginative play, locomotor play, mastery play, object play, recapitulative play, role play, rough and tumble play, social play, socio-dramatic play, symbolic play.

If you’re interested, you should go look them up: the explanation of each is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice is to say though that the play types taxonomy was ‘produced to enable those who worked with children to call similar playful routines by the same names, to sing from the same hymn sheet, and to be clearer and thus more specific about what they were observing when they watched children playing.’ (Hughes, 2012, p.97).

So, this says to me that the play types are adults’ words for what they saw children doing when they played. Yet, how might children describe their own play? I’m going to ignore Hughes’ given reasonings for devising the taxonomy (i.e. that we adults might all be able to describe play in the same way), and indulge in a thought exercise of looking at play from children’s perspectives.

How can we possibly know what play ‘looks’ and ‘feels’ like to a child, or how it might be described by a child? We can only really know about the play of our own childhoods. We could ask the child, but then the play that’s happening is no longer the play that was happening. So, I come back to Hughes for the next jumping off point: the idea of ‘problem immersion’. That is, briefly and for these purposes here, imagining things from a child’s perspective: if I imagine descriptive words for play, from a child’s perspective, partly based on my own play experiences, I might come close.

My final jumping off point is Hughes’ IMEE method of reflective practice. That is, I shall keep in mind what my Intuition tells me, what my Memories of my own childhood tell me, what my twenty-odd years of Experience of observation of children at play tells me, and what the Evidence of the playwork literature tells me.

My points of reference, my jumping off points, therefore are:

(i) What are the words that adults use to describe the play that they see?

(ii) Hughes’ play types, observed playful routines; adults all ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’.

(iii) Problem immersion and imagining descriptive words for play, from a child’s perspective: based here on my own play experiences.

(iv) My intuition, my childhood memory of play, my experience of observation of children at play, my reading of the evidence of the playwork literature.
 
Play types from a child’s perspective: speculations (unfinished)

Whilst these ‘potentially child described’ play types do, in places, cross over with Hughes’ play types, it’s not my intention to just think of a different word for each of those in his list. There’s also some cross over with what other thinkers and writers have written.

This list is also, unlike Hughes’ taxonomy, not meticulously researched; nor is it methodically and scientifically researched with planned-out observation and experimentation (although there is my ongoing xyz years’ of experience). As such, it is very much speculation.
 
Chilling play

I don’t know how long that word has been around, in this context, but I don’t remember it being used in this way when I was a child. However, this child-word type of play (if indeed it is a child-word) is listed here to highlight the evolution of language. It’s also here because children now don’t seem to do too much ‘relaxing’, ‘just watching’, ‘quiet play’ — they chill instead. (Or maybe I’m out of touch and I don’t even know it!) If I had the word, as a child, I’d probably use it too (or that awful concoction that is ‘chillax’ — though that is an adult opinion and so should be cast out here!)
 
Dangerous play

Two thoughts immediately strike me here: just as Hughes’ work has been constructively criticised in some quarters for its male perspective (he could also only draw directly from his own childhood), so is the possibility here with mine. Also, as previously noted, ‘dangerous’ is a value-laden adult word. However, this is one of those times, I suggest, when an adult value-laden word can get used by children in different ways. So, ‘dangerous’ is right, just as much as ‘bad’ could mean good, etc. I’ll stop whilst I’m ahead on this one though because the point of a child or teenage language, maybe, is that the adults don’t get it, or that the adults get it hopelessly wrong! I have to concede that I’m an adult now.
 
Diss play

Not to be confused with Sturrock and Else’s (1998) dysplay, which is another animal altogether. Diss play, perhaps, refers to the gentle, and not so gentle, art of antagonism. It is an art. It is a communication, as is ‘whatever play’, below, but diss play is played harder. It might also be ‘grief play’ or ‘I gonna knife you, bruv play’, etc., depending on what part of the country you’re in. (There is, I know, at least one other reader here who gets that last reference!) Perhaps ‘diss play’ and ‘whatever play’ come under a joint heading: Bugging play, perhaps, or Yeh, right play.
 
Dizzy play

Caillois (1958) identified ‘vertigo’, but the child’s word is dizzy: spinning around for no other reason than to be dizzy (you know you did this too!), rolly-poly, cartwheels, etc.
 
Fighting play

Adults tend to heap such physical play with value-laden words such as ‘play fighting’ and even ‘rough and tumble play’. They’re the ‘good’ type of fighting. However, I’ve often heard children get excited about the ‘fighting’ they were going to do later. ‘Fighting’ is just fighting. There are other words for ‘real fighting’, perhaps.
 
Freaking out play

Whilst thinking about ‘chilling’, the other context for this word came to me: chilling as in ‘frightening, scary’. Children, en mass, can scare the life out of some adults! Children can scare themselves, and others too, with their play. Sometimes, a critical mass takes shape: a group of children at play can bounce off each other to such an extent that something almost frightening takes shape; something odd and weird and freaky. I certainly had moments of childhood play where I just ‘went bananas’, ‘freaked out’ because I needed to. It was still a form of play (and I’ve definitely seen it happen in children I’ve worked with — a knowing in their eyes that suggests they’re kind of saying, ‘Go on then, work with this!’) It’s still a form of play, but a freaky utterly discomforting kind for the adult.
 
Girls’ play/boys’ play

Perhaps this one needs scrapping before it’s even written because the concept of gender specific play is passed down to children from adults. However, it’s in for now because ‘typical’ girls’ play or boys’ play can be, and is, played by members of both genders. In my childhood, girls didn’t usually play football round my way, though girls now add a whole new dimension to a previously mostly male play experience; also, if I got involved in ‘girls’ play’ (so dolls, or songs, or skipping) when I was a child, though I might still be involved, I still would have known it to be girls’ play.
 
Whatever play

I include this one tentatively, bearing in mind what I wrote about the child or teenage language being something adults are necessarily a step removed from — ‘whatever’ is a word in use that I can only have an educated guess at. However, in this context, I’m thinking: if I were a child now and I wanted to play around with a whole bunch of things at once — including communication, assertion, identity, role, power dynamics, etc. — then saying ‘whatever’ whenever I could irritate someone else would do the trick! Of course, this type of ‘child-described’ play is also subject to local dialect, nuance, level of streetwiseness, etc. (as is, probably, all of these speculations).
 
This list is paused here. It is to be thought on more, to be continued. How do you think children might describe their play?
 
 
References

Caillois, R. (1958), Man, play and games. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press (2001).

Hughes, B. (2012), Evolutionary playwork. Abingdon: Routledge.

Sturrock, G. and Else, P. (1998), The playground as therapeutic space: playwork as healing – the Colorado paper. IPA/USA: Triennial National Conference.
 
 

This river through us

Recently I took advice from someone far more experienced in working with children and young people with disabilities than myself. I asked her about the thorny issue of how to refer to her client group, en mass. Yes, I realise about the value of the individual, but bear with me here. She told me that she preferred the term ‘disabled children and young people’. The other acceptable ‘organisation-friendly’ phrase, she told me, is ‘children and young people with additional requirements/needs’. So, not ‘special needs’. I have it on good authority.

Now, I write this because I’m currently working with a group of disabled adults/adults with additional requirements/needs. I have been thinking of their play. There are those who write on play matters who disregard adult play, preferring to focus solely on the play of children. That is their focus, and I have a commitment to focusing and learning on this area too. However, play runs through us all. Adults play. I’m interested in all forms of it. Here, now, the tone of this posting will unashamedly drift into something a little more . . . esoteric.

Earlier in the year I presented at the national playwork conference on the subject of amalgamated play types. I had done as much research as I could, I’d thought about the play frames I was observing with children I was working with at that time, I had given it all due consideration. I was lucky enough to talk with Bob Hughes, on the comfy seats of the conference bookshop, tucked away in the corner as we were. We discussed observations and play types, amongst other things. He alluded, again, to wishing he hadn’t written the play types research up. The thing had become a checklist, in certain quarters, he told me.

Here’s the main dynamic of my amalgamated play types presentation: don’t look at the singular play types – it’s too boxy; look at the whole. Observe the space, the holistic, this amalgam of children, resources, physical and affective ingredients, the space itself. More than this. See the whole thing, as Bob puts it, in terms of ‘background noise’, as the ‘merging’.

I’m working with disabled adults/adults with additional requirements/needs. This is still a little clumsy. I’m working with these adults who play. As I do this, I can only use the skills I have to make sense of the space: I see possibilities of metalude, cues and returns, the holistic whole of amalgamated play types. The pace of play is slower than what I’m used to with children. I fall into lulls: I miss things and I tell myself off for it. An argument winds itself up slowly, and I miss the trigger and even the altercation itself because I’m lulled: I see adults interacting, I see child-like playfulness, but I don’t always marry the two together. I’m fascinated, but I’m a little like the fish who flops on the edge of the shoreline.

If analysis is a breaking down of things, and synthesis is a putting back together again, what I do is something of both at once. Yet, I know – in the spirit of holistic, amalgamated, merging, non-checklistedness – that analysis and synthesis are too boxy. However, analysis does show me – if I do confine myself to the ‘sixteen currently recognised play types according to Hughes’ – that these adults are more inclined to social play, communication play, rough and tumble play, with maybe a touch of object play and symbolic play thrown in.

I walked this morning, because walking helps me think. So, present tense: I find myself at the river because sitting helps me think more. I sit and watch the way the river flows: the rise and dip, the rise and dip, similar patterns in the rise and dip here and here and here, yet different every time; the spittle on the surface and its flow; the background weeds and reeds drifting and swaying. A moment of epiphany arises: this play, this flow, that runs through us.

A friend of mine is a dancer. Many years ago, she taught me about what she called ‘the cosmic wave of the Universe.’ This flow, this cosmic wave, this holistic merging amalgamated rise and dip, rise and dip: this play through us.

Where am I going with all of this? I sat at the river and thought about the individual play frames of individual adults I’m working with (the merging of social, communication and rough and tumble, with a touch of object and symbolic play): I thought of any given one of these play frames, a mix, being like a cocktail. I thought of these mixes, over weeks, blurring together. The river of play that runs through all of these adults, in that room, at that time, and in me.

Bob writes about proto-play types and perceived complex play types. I have been struggling to fix the proto or complex tag onto the play of the adults I’m working with: these adults with their adults’ needs and desires, and with their playful child-like qualities. I can only view our interactions, each adult with one another, each adult with me, in terms of the river flowing. We’re all a part of this.

So, the rough and tumble aspect of the adults of this group is gentle and trusting, exploring and ignoring or testing of social etiquettes, with love and with innocence or with subtle and not-so-subtle lack of naivety, respectful, utterly uninhibited, brash and at arms’ length. The social play is an ignoring and a refining or a redefining of received wisdom on rules of engagement, and it’s a deliberate infusion of edginess with an innocence, with a semblance of worldly-wiseness. The communication play is repetitive and finding out and novel and with affection, without malice, sharp and concise and arbitrary. The object and symbolic play fuses into the rough and tumble, the social, the communication: people as objects for the finding out – a poke and a laugh and a touch and a manipulation of emotion or of the physical self, such as in the invitation to dance.

At the river it was all very clear: see the merging, the flow, the cosmic wave, call it what you will. It’s more than just checklisted items, this play: it’s of children, of adults; it’s the nature of things. Words aren’t adequate enough.
 
 

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