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

Posts tagged ‘playwork writer’

Playwork — a Rolling Stones moment (guest blog)

As I grow increasingly aware of the readership (and of the potential readership) of this blog on (if not ‘all’ then ‘many’ things) play and playwork, I’m becoming more and more open to it also being a platform for guest blogs on and around the subject matter. So, to that end, there follows a guest blog from my playwork colleague and occasional partner-in-beer, fellow ‘putter-of-the-world-to-rights’, Rich Driffield. We both attended the 12th National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne this week and being part of that community again seems to have had an affect on both of us (though I shall reserve my own extended thoughts here for a time when I’ve fully processed them).

Suffice is to say that what we do, fellow playworkers reading here (and also those of you who have found your way back here or who’ve come here for the first time, from any field that you find yourself in), what we do is something very special. When I looked around the conference hall and saw playworkers who could relate to the things I do on the playground without any difficulty of explanation, I too felt part of a unique band of people. The opportunity to talk about the taboo and difficult subjects in rational safety with people who’ve also been around for many years in the field, or to have incidental or depth discussions again with fellow playworkers, fellow writers, other trainers, lecturers or professors in the ‘salon’ area we set up, or in the pub, was inspiring.

My head was spinning for two and a half days because of the intensity of discussions, because of listening, because of focus. It also became clear to me that, within the support network out there in the playwork field, some individuals are even more appreciative of the thoughts and words of writers such as myself than I’d fully appreciated. To this end, a quick note here is made in appreciation and acknowledgement of those supporters in my being bestowed the Playwork Writer Award 2014. Also, very great specific thanks are sent the way of Captain Complexity, ‘Wing Commander’ Arthur Battram (he of the excellent title blag!) in agreeing to collect this award on my behalf!

So, without further ado, it’s over to m’learned colleague Rich Driffield and his guest blog regarding his take on the conference and on being part of this community of playwork people. Rich writes:
It was with a hint of sadness that I boarded the train back to London Victoria on Wednesday afternoon. I have been encouraged to blog before but I have never really felt the need until now. Anyway, it was not the type of sadness that brought tears but instead a kind of sadness that brought a huge sense of pride and of belonging to something. I am talking about my feelings in response to ‘hanging out’ at the Playwork Conference in Eastbourne, mainly in the ‘salon’ amongst a unique group of people.

This year I got a lot out of conference: not that I didn’t in previous years but, in 2014, Eastbourne was exactly what I needed. The various conversations I engaged in, listened to, the old friends I caught up with, those people whose faces I knew but not their names, who I finally had the opportunity to speak to, led to time very well spent. It was a productive two days: I learnt things, spoke about nonsense, and laughed. But more importantly, I felt part of something again.

I sat around, mostly in the ‘salon’, and felt totally at ease. I went to a number of workshops and felt like I had something to give and something to be given. The majority of people I spent my time with totally enthralled me. This assemblage of personalities, new and old, led me to feel proud. The ten or so individuals I spent most of my time with inspired me: I hope in some way they got something from me too. In an increasingly difficult world, it is crucial that — as playworkers — we continue to stick together because we are an amazing bunch of people who do a bloody hard job.

This togetherness is something that really struck me over the last few days, and it led to the sadness I felt when leaving. It is something I have struggled to find in the past two years since moving on to a new place. Hurdles upon hurdles have been put in place, and there have been times when I’ve felt surrounded by thoughts on learning, safety and control rather than the children, who should always come first. As I boarded the train I felt I was leaving on my own again back to the ‘real world’ of seriousness and, as Eddie alluded to in his workshop, ‘bullshit’.

As I sat writing this at my kitchen table, I listened to Radio Two and a Rolling Stones track came on. This to me was a mini-celebration and, as I reviewed the last few days with the music playing, it honestly felt really good. I was back; I have discovered what it feels like to be a playworker again; I felt part of a much wider team, and I thank all the people I met for getting me back to this point!

So, what from here? Will I forget this warm fuzzy feeling in a week or so and revert back to the ‘bullshit real world’, becoming frustrated all over again? Well, maybe a little, but an important thing for me is to keep my fellow colleagues close, work on what we know, continue to develop our thinking, and pick each other up when we are down. That is what playworkers should do, and we should be confident in what we believe in. As to those who work away from here who I met: let’s talk occasionally, moan and joke on social networks, but also remember that we are playworkers, and that’s crucial to remember in times of peril.


A theory of the real (part one of some)

For most of the summer I’ve been concerned with thoughts on playworking in terms of a ‘theory of the real’. It’s a work in progress, and I know I’m not alone in such ways of thinking. There was a time when I knew nothing of playwork and I happily trotted along in my work with children, ignorant of all the things that were happening in the sector around me; there was then a time when I called myself a playworker but really, honestly, I didn’t know what that meant (in terms of the playwork writing that had happened and was continuing to be written); then I read some books — plenty of books; now I call myself better read but, despite this, not always comfortable with it all.

Sure, the books have helped — there’s no escaping that fact — but the trouble is, as I’ve touched on before in other writings, we can blindly follow things we read or things we’re told and not question them. We can look out into the world we work in, or live in, or co-exist in (or all of these) and we can think: so-and-so wrote this and he says this about that, so that must be true (despite what our eyes and ears and feelings are telling us, in the moment). In some obscure inner workings of the mind, it’s the same sort of thinking with the use of papers such as policies and procedures and risk assessments and so on and so on: what is written in such documents might well work at one point in time (that exact time in space when they were written), but things have a habit of shifting along.

Thinking about a recent impromptu day out at the park with family children, having seen them climb up and over and all around various pieces of static equipment, I also wander back to my own childhood. Did the designers of such equipment expect me to spin around on the swings, helicopter fashion, tightening the chains so much that they began to constrict my movements till I let go, zipping around? Did they factor that into their swinging risk assessments? (I don’t even know if such things took place in 1960s and 70s designers’ offices, or ‘parks created by management committee’ rooms, or the like; though that’s another story).

Whilst working this week, I swapped stories with colleagues about swing play when we were all children. There were tales (possibly tall tales, personal mythologies and legendary anecdotes) of how someone managed to flip right over the bar on the swings once. I found it hard to believe. I think I may have tried it when I was a child too, though I could never get high enough or fast enough to achieve it. The experience of trying and failing must have planted a permanent ‘not possible’ category onto my play memory. I moved on to other play challenges. If it was possible for this other person to flip right over the bar, once a long time ago, I don’t know if the swing’s designers factored that possibility of endeavour into the equipment. Obviously they didn’t, otherwise the legend (which was apparently true) would never have taken place.

When truly observing play, when deeply engaged in the unfolding actions and in the possible formation of verbal legendary narratives, it becomes clearer to me that something other than dry ‘on paper’ play is taking place. Something ‘very other’ takes place, in fact. Policies and procedures and risk assessments are easy enough to take a swipe at in this ‘dry paper’ way, but sometimes I read some playwork books and I start to wander down similar avenues of thinking. Can it really be true that what was happening in playworking ways circa 1973, for example, is still relevant in the same ways in 2013? Is [insert highly regarded playwork writer’s name here]’s opinion on dealing with conflict in children’s play, for example, really going to work in the heat of the moment? What’s the deal with the dogma many seem to have blindly taken on as gospel truths? It’s not entirely fair to place this question squarely at the feet of the writers: I used to think Dylan sang ‘Don’t follow leaders, walking parking meters’, which would have been a much better line, and so I use it here . . .

This ‘theory of the real’ is fraught with difficulties: not least of these is the potential for those who ‘buy in’ to the idea of ‘doing it for real’ having a total disregard for all that’s been researched and written. There is the potential for some who work in the sector to disregard the literature purely out of laziness or to conceal their apathy at reading. They might say, ‘Why listen to people who write books, or who wrote about this stuff when they were working with children all those years ago? What would they do about five-year-old Johnny’s concerns about educational attainment?; or what about twelve-year-old Gary, who can’t butter his own bread because Mummy’s always been worried about him using sharp things without close supervision?’

These are just examples! I could equally have written, ‘What would happen if little Johnny came out of nowhere and told the playworker/writer how much they loved them? What if Gary had insisted and insisted that the playworker/writer had shown him how to work the hose?’ Did these things happen in 1973? I don’t know; I was barely out of my ‘why, why, why’ questions phase and nylon brown shorts back then! Maybe some of my other playwork colleagues can tell me . . .

This ‘theory of the real’ looks to me, at the moment, something like an amalgamation of several ways of working: as I’m prone to do in such cases, I often paraphrase thinking (attributed to Picasso or the Dalai Lama?) — that ‘rules’ can, of course, be broken, but to do this the ‘rules’ need to be known in the first place. Or, in other words, sure we can say let’s disregard this or that from the playwork literature, but only if we’ve read and understood it in the first place. Only if we can be sure(ish) that something from what we’ve read ‘doesn’t fit’, because we’ve observed and felt the contrary, can we say ‘no, this doesn’t work.’

This (particular) theory of the real is a work in progress. It includes the things I’ve read, the things I’ve observed, the things I thought I knew when I thought I was a playworker, and the things I just did before I knew anything at all. What I know very much includes what I’ve seen: this is how children (including me when I was younger) play and have played; this (communication, magic, love, call it what you might) is what these children here and now show. I don’t always read what I’ve observed in some of the literature . . . and policies, procedures, risk assessments and so on are too dry for such real world concerns.

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