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

Posts tagged ‘psycholudics’

Structural dynamics of play: a technical analysis

There are five gardens whose boundaries are also the boundaries, variously, of one another’s gardens: Garden A meets with Gardens B and E; Garden B meets Gardens A and C and E; Garden C meets Gardens B and D and E; Garden D meets Gardens C and E, and Garden E meets all the others. At a point along the low wall and fence boundary of Gardens C and E, the width of a door that isn’t actually there, there is a threshold between otherwise enclosed areas. The children of both houses, residents and various visitors alike, often traverse the gap on the boundary, and the places of play become one fluid place.

I choose all my words carefully because technical words are subject to definition. The prime focus in this introductory scene-setting is intended towards Quentin Stevens’ use of ‘boundary’ and ‘threshold’ (as also connected to ‘path’, ‘intersection’, and ‘prop’, being urban locations observed as conducive for play) in The ludic city: exploring the potential of public spaces (2007). ‘Place’ is used in the introduction above instead of ‘space’ because, in part, the former is infused (in terms of children’s play) with all the humanity that the latter isn’t, as perceived, touched by. The latter is also, in my experience, a word or part of a phrase (‘play space’) that has become spongey and bland with over-use. People don’t understand space; place is far deeper.

Often, the children of Garden C will traverse the threshold of the gap on the boundary between the gardens to join the play of the children of Garden E on the other side, and vice versa. Sometimes, any of the children of either side will wait along the liminal portion of the wall, just to watch or think, or to think and watch. Occasionally, the resident children of Garden C and/or their random friends will chance their luck and just lie on the grass on the other side when no E-children are around, just to flop on the slope that they don’t have themselves or to look at the clouds. Regularly, the older boys will send the youngest girl out on her own to retrieve a rogue ball or space-hopper (because, I suppose, that’s what little sisters are for!).

There are definite paths through the gardens: the places or place of play. These are not necessarily confined to the concrete path of one side or the steps down the slope of the other. The overall square-meterage isn’t huge but, nonetheless, there’s an overlay of routes that can be perceived. Ways of navigating these routes are also evolving: there’s the possibility of the jump-through forming, like a leap through the threshold of a star-gate, perhaps. Play happens, though not exclusively, on the paths, the routes, and at their intersections. Recently, the grass of Garden E was strewn with the flattened-out carcasses of bike-sized cardboard boxes, with bits of extra-sticky pads that we haven’t ever worked out what their non-offcut portions are used for, with a variety of cardboard broadswords and daggers, with lumps of charcoal from the fire pit or from the wood pile, and with the experimental prototypes of big-bubble makers (‘bubble knickers’) and batch mixtures. Then there was gloop (cornflour and water, to the uninitiated), and play was amorphous in the places of the place.

Later, when I looked out from the inside to the outside, through the window that adjoins the open glass door, the sunlight streaming hard into the well of the garden, it was a hazy orange lozenge that I perceived, in which the children played with grubby faces and charcoal-smeared legs and knees. Later still, I considered bubbles more. In the terminology of playwork, we recognise the ‘play frames’ as they occur, the psychological and/or physical vessels in which play takes place. Playwork doesn’t use the word ‘vessel’ (and ‘vessel’ is a word that’ll soon shift here), as far as I’ve ever heard or read, but I always thought that ‘frame’ risked causing confusion or somehow might justify the narrow simplicity of the s-word: ‘structure’. Structure is an ugly word when the subtext, often, is actually more about what certain adults want or need, rather than what they suppose that children want/need, e.g., in simplistic terms: ‘children need structure (read as over-protection, restriction, anodyne lack of choice, or similar)’, and this then is more readily translatable as ‘the declaring adult needs obedience, calmness, order, or likewise.’ Simplistic interpretation of ‘structure’ aside, bubbles, I’ve always thought, are a way of perceiving play that ‘frames’ can’t match.

Bubbles maintain a structural integrity, to a point, and they shift according to the dynamic loads that surround, and that are contained by, them. Sometimes you get bubbles within bubbles, bubbles that are grafted onto other bubbles, bubbles that split into smaller bubbles. They bob along the very tips of the blades of grass or rise and skirt and cheat the edges of the fences. Some float up and up. Eventually they pop. A big-bubble batch of mixture will result in a feathery, candy-floss of residue, which just hovers in the air for a moment after the bubble has succumbed to the dynamic loads of air pressure and altitude, or suchlike, at its thinnest surface portions. The residue is like filament. In continuation of the analogy, the residue is the beginnings of more play rather than a finality. I watch big bubbles when they rise high: the falling of the filament of candy-floss, which bubbles contract to, always deserves my special and reverential attention.

If the bubble incorporates the play, and if it encompasses any small or great degree of the places or place of play, then the child or children are within it. The bubble’s skin has its certain structure, but it is the amorphous structure as created by the child. We should not confuse the simplistic adult term that is the over-used ‘children need structure’ with the far deeper structural complexity inherent in the bubble and bubbles of play. When I observe play, sometimes, though not always in such ways as this, I wonder at the structural dynamics of the bubbles of play (whether the bubbles are isolated, or potentially merging, or grafted on, or splitting away, or even if they’re within other bubbles of play): what internal and external loads can or will the play absorb, or hold, or resist, or reflect before the bubble skin quietly implodes? Adults (parents, teachers, any and all others) can be external loads, or become internal pressures, if the child or children have had the grace or need to surround those adults in their play.

At the thresholds and boundaries, and along the paths and intersections, or at the points of ‘furniture’ (the ‘props’) of the place that is the amalgamation of Gardens C and E, play is an amorphous bubble that forms, is never really spherical, that floats or bumps along or rises, and which eventually pops and reforms. There are many external dynamics, adult loads, that might affect the structural integrity of the constituted big-bubble mixture. Technically, we adults should take care.
 
 

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Play and (un)certainty

‘Children create situations of unbalance in an attempt to regain equilibrium (Spinka et al, 2001).’

— Lester and Russell (2008, p.62)

More or less, this line above is something I’ve been thinking about or gearing towards for a few weeks now. I knew of it, though not in any precision of word order, and when I looked it up and typed it down, it sat there and waited patiently as I sat there and looked rather ponderously at it for a few minutes. Taking it at face value, it doesn’t wholly fit. The quote comes from Play for a Change and relates to a section of writing on stress response systems and risk in play. ‘Risk’ is often seen predominately in terms of the ‘physical risk’ but the emotional and psychological aspects of risk also come into play. So, what if, for some children (or maybe even for all children), it’s certainty that they’re looking for in the risks of their play, rather than uncertainty in order to regain their equilibriums?

I write it like this because I don’t see the process of regaining balance (physically or emotionally/psychologically) as being the same thing as the seeking of certainty in play. Besides this, I know plenty of children who seek more and more ‘unbalancing’, as if this in itself is a form of certainty. The Play for a Change authors cite Caillois (1961) and Kailliala (2006) in referring to ‘dizzy play’, or vertigo, and some children I know often like to spin fast, and faster, on the roundabout — just for the spin of it, I suspect (not for the regaining of the stability of terra firma, and not for that particular sort of receding nausea that some of us also remember from our own childhoods). This dizzy play is for the sensory nature of being in it. Going fast is never fast enough.

However, this post is not particularly focused on such spin. It is the potential seeking of certainty in children’s play that draws the attention. A repeated play frame — an instance of play, or ‘a material or non-material boundary that keeps the play intact’ (Sturrock and Else, 1998), for those who’ve forgotten playwork terminology — repeated play frames such as those I’ve described in engagement with children’s play in recent posts, are a seeking for certainty in this context. This is how I’m reading the play. However, despite the possible best intentions of the players to faithfully reproduce the play of a previous time, conditions surrounding the new play aren’t going to be exactly the same as the previous instances: so, there will be differences in the play, new formations and directions; the players must be after the best fit of how the play felt. It does, perhaps, suffice to say that if ‘this, that and the other’ is replicated, as best as can be arranged, then ‘this, that and this’ is how the play is expected to feel or be.

I see this seeking of certainty, as I read it, time and again: if it’s not a near-as-damn-it replication of a previous play frame, then it’s a recreation and re-ordering of elements of that play frame; or it sometimes involves the repetitions of stories or it might be the re-positioning of new ‘actors’ into an old scene. It doesn’t always involve repetitions and recreations of previous play: the seeking of certainty, in this line of thinking, extends to the child who won’t jump from the jumping platform for fear of landing awkwardly, too hard, too far out, or for fear of hurting themselves in other ways, for example. Some adults throw themselves out of aeroplanes after they’ve thrown their parachutes out first, for the buzz of it (and good luck to them!); some children jump from swings or walls or platforms without seeming to look and without ever having jumped from that particular swing or wall or platform before. Isn’t there something just a little pathologically disturbed, however, about someone who doesn’t have even the slightest degree of confidence that they’re more ‘certain’ than ‘not certain’ to make that jump? (OK, so I’ve never jumped out of a plane: what do I know? Would you do it though if you thought you had no chance of landing in fewer than two whole pieces?!)

Our lives are uncertain, but this is all the more reason to seek some degree of reassurance that we won’t face death at every corner, or emotional torment or psychological ridicule every way we turn. Uncertainty does permeate through play, in its way, but it’s one thing saying ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen next in my play; isn’t it exciting?’ and another thing saying ‘Everything I do in my play is a physical, emotional, or psychological rollercoaster that scares the living shit out of me’. One of Garvey’s (1977) prerequisites for play was that it be valued, or fun. Can play be play when it’s a constant engagement with things you can’t be even a little certain of?

I’m certain, in as far as I can be (yes, here’s a stick: hit me over the head with it!), that I’ll finish this post and write something else pretty soon (unless there’s a sudden meteor strike, or unless I suffer a stupendously unlucky imminent physical catastrophe, or the like); I’m pretty certain that if I don’t surpass my ‘optimum limit’ minus one for beer consumption, I won’t suffer for it in the morning; I’m certain that if I’m suddenly reacquainted with Walking in Memphis whilst driving, I’ll be singing loud like no-one can see me! This is all my play, and give or take a negligible percentage of conditions dictating that things won’t work out the way I think they will, things will work out the way I think they will.

What I’m not seeking is not to finish my writing or start any more writing ever again, to exceed my optimum beer consumption limit, or for Walking in Memphis to finish so I can drive like a grown-up again! I’m not supposing for a minute that children necessarily go into their play reflecting on the degree of certainty that will result from replicated play frames, or suchlike; however, I do suppose, here and now, that some (maybe all) children play with some internal nod towards certain possibilities.
 
References

Caillois, R. (1961, 2001), Man, play and games. Translated by Meyer Barash. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Cited in Lester, S. and Russell, W. (2008), Play for a change. London: National Children’s Bureau/Play England.

Garvey, C. (1977), Play: the developing child. London: Fontana/Open Books.

Kailliala, M. (2006), Play culture in a changing world. Berkshire: Open University Press. Cited in Lester, S. and Russell, W. (2008), Play for a change. London: National Children’s Bureau/Play England.

Lester, S. and Russell, W. (2008), Play for a change. London: National Children’s Bureau/Play England.

Spinka, M., Newberry, R. and Bekoff, M. (2001), Mammalian play: training for the unexpected. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 76(2): 141-168. Cited in Lester, S. and Russell, W. (2008), Play for a change. London: National Children’s Bureau/Play England.

Sturrock, G. and Else, P. (1998), The playground as therapeutic space: playwork as healing (the Colorado paper). Leigh-on-Sea: Ludemos Press.
 
 

A personal tribute to Perry Else

Playwork has lost another of its own. This week Professor Perry Else passed away: I wanted to add my own thoughts following those who’ve already taken the time to reflect and write. In a sector that has a certain intensity in its discussion, ideas, experiences, conflicts of perspective, depth of thinking, there is also a cohesion just because of all of that. Perry was one of our own. Of course, playwork has lost others over recent years, but on a personal note Perry’s passing was a little different because I knew him, or at least, I had the privilege to hold discussions with- and be listened to by him. When I heard the sad news on Sunday this week, I was shocked. I knew that he wasn’t well, that there was some treatment involved, but I didn’t know the nature of his illness or the true extent of it: Perry didn’t seem to need to say it to everyone.

So this post is my tribute to Perry, based on the short time that I knew him and on the affect he has had on me. I don’t remember for sure the first time I met Perry: it may have been at Beauty of Play in 2007, or it may have been at another playwork event or conference somewhere around the country. It doesn’t so much matter because what matters is that, having read the Colorado Paper I was at once inspired to be in the presence of one of its authors (it remains a seminal text in the playwork field, if not totally comprehended by all) and also at ease in his presence. Perry had a way of concentrating on what you had to say, listening in, respecting the opinion, before taking the conversation on. I always knew I was in for a challenge of my own concentration when we talked though.

A few years back, at Beauty of Play one year, Perry sat down with me over breakfast, at the table overlooking the trees in the dip at the back of the old country house in Stone, Staffordshire. He was already alert at 8am (which might have been an earthly hour for him, but which has always been an unearthly hour for this playworker!) I had to concentrate especially hard as he talked about his latest writing, his thinking on play, and so forth. Some of it went in but that was my fault for getting out of my tent before double figures in the morning. I remember that Perry said to me that morning that he’d appreciate it if I didn’t tell anyone yet about the contents of that conversation (and he’d had conversations with others, of course) because he was still working on it. I didn’t, as requested.

In the summer of 2012, if memory serves me correctly, Perry and I had a conversation about me delivering a session at Beauty of Play that September. I’d presented before at the event and that year I needed to go but couldn’t fund it so well. Perry offered me a deal and then suggested some research subjects to work on over the summer ready for the event. We agreed that I’d take up the study of epigenetics, and how it related to play. Perry supported my research, offered advice, and took the time to talk things through with me. I really did appreciate his mentoring.

Every so often I would cross paths with him at other events. One year I was tasked with trying to explain parts of psycholudics at the National Playwork Conference and Perry must have been doing the advanced psycholudics discussions, in the same track. It felt like being his ‘warm up man’, either way, and in a way, even though it wasn’t a straight me and then the next guy gig! It focused me. It made me realise I had to get everything spot on for my own audience because they might well then head on to Perry and find out about this psycholudics thing straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

Another year Perry and I were both in amongst a large group of playwork colleagues at the Playwork Conference, listening to a colleague discussing the play cycle. It must have been strange, in a way, for him to sit mostly in silence as others discussed the writing that he and Gordon Sturrock had done years before; there again, maybe he’d got used to it. He listened carefully, as seemed to be his way. That session, I related an observation of play that I’d once mentally taken (never having fully written it down), of children lounging around on the platforms of an adventure playground I’d visited in London a few years previously: I used it to explain some learners’ ways of understanding the ‘metalude’. Perry carefully made corrections at this point. He explained the metalude not, as he perceived the example, in terms of a whole ‘thinking process’ taking place in the playing child, but more as a kind of ‘presence’. I didn’t focus well enough to capture his exact words. I wish I’d raised it again with him when I saw him last, in March, at this year’s Playwork Conference.

What transpired was that I collared Professor Else after the workshop, sitting on the floor, in a small group of playwork colleagues, explaining my experience of a number of years of attempting to teach the finer nuances of psycholudics, as I understood it, and how it all seemed to feel like the Colorado Paper had been diluted down to ‘just the play cycle’ bit (through a combination of teaching methods and learner comprehension). Perry listened, accepted the stance, and my memory is of a good discussion held with a man who seemed to respect the contributors, the feedback, the material, the possibilities and consequences.

This year, at the Playwork Conference, towards the end of the day I sat on the sofas that myself and Arthur Battram had set up specifically to engage some salon dialogue. I was tired, having talked with and concentrated on listening to my peers all day. Perry came by and sat down on the sofa. I was instantly aware of concentrating hard (not because Perry spoke a different language, as it were, though others might playfully disagree!) but because I always felt inspired to focus in his presence. There are things, now, that I wish I’d asked him more about.

My deepest condolences go out to Millie, Perry’s daughter, who I met at Beauty of Play, she of the most beautiful singing voice. Perry would tell long tales around the campfire down there at the edge of the woods: tales we’d often heard the year before, story-jokes that wound about with that particularly languid tone of voice he had. Millie would later sing, and I hope she’ll sing a beautiful song for her Dad.

Of course, we can never have known someone as a family member might, though the passing of one of playwork’s own is significant: it’s tinged with extra pertinence if that person has directly affected any other.

Peace be, Professor Else, sir.

Joel with Perry (2012)
 
 

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).
 
 

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.
 
 

Heretical speculation about some children’s play wishes: from adulteration to a fusion of play

Following on from the thinking in my previous post on the observation of children’s play, the playwork term ‘adulteration’ is up for further consideration here. It’s often seen as a rather odd idea by playwork learners! Despite its meaning of ‘making impure’ it is, after all, a word confused with other areas of some people’s lives in relation to being unfaithful to a spouse! This type of adulteration, in playwork, isn’t the same kind (although, thinking about it, it does contain a certain unfaithfulness: that is, not being faithful to children’s play).

Two strands of recent thinking and experience lead me along this reflection this week: a recent teaching session in which I attempted to differentiate between the playwork terms ‘annihilation’ and ‘adulteration’ (which I’ll come to shortly), and consideration of blog- and social media material I’ve read where the writers seem to get quite excited about play or being involved in play.

It is my experience that playwork learners often confuse the terms ‘annihilation’ and ‘adulteration’. Why do they have to be such stupid words? is a common sentiment I hear! To which I often reply: ‘I didn’t write this stuff; take it up with Sturrock and Else.’ So, here are a couple of ways of explaining the terms from those authors (anyone further interested should go to Ludemos, which is the best place to find out information on matters of psycholudics, play cycle, and such terms as I’m addressing in this post):

Play annihilation is the end of the play for the child at that time . . . when [the play] has no more meaning for the child, when the child has got whatever they were looking for from the play experience.

Adulteration (from the Colorado Paper, 1998, by Gordon Sturrock and Perry Else): There is a danger that the play aims and objects of the children become contaminated by either the wishes of the adult in an urge to ‘teach’ or ‘educate’, simply to dominate, or by the worker’s own unplayed out material.

In my previous post I touched on this idea of ‘unplayed out material’. That we, as adults, effectively haven’t finished playing the things we played as a child, or that we’re compensating now for play we didn’t do, might come as something of an eye opener to some of us. After all, adults don’t play, do they? Adults get on with life, and children play. No, of course not. Of course adults still play. We go to the pub, play sports, tell jokes, dance, pull faces, etc., etc. We play. I’m still wondering if this means we’ve all got unplayed out material in us. If that’s true, if we’re invited into children’s play, maybe we can’t help but adulterate that play with our own play drives.

I’ve been reading various blog- and social media material recently and I know that those writers are on the same general wavelength as me in my approach to children’s play (because I know a lot of those writers anyway); however, I do wonder sometimes if the observation of children’s play, the involvement of adults in the child’s play, isn’t verging more towards being about the buzz the adult gets out of it all. My fellow playworkers, don’t get me wrong here: you are appreciated, and I get a buzz from play too. This is it though: our own ‘unplayed out material’ can be appeased in these ways of involvement in the play of children.

Is that play-healthy for the children? I mean, sure they’ll often let us know in no uncertain terms if we’re not wanted or needed, but when we are accepted into the play, does the whole buzz of play swing our way? We’ve all been there, let’s be honest, when we’re in the play and we have an idea of how things can shift direction, and we say it (as in, ‘I know, what if we try this . . .?’), and the child accepts, and we get the stuff, and we play the play, and the child follows along, and we have another idea, and before long the child moves on to something else . . .

Sometimes, in these ways of playing, the child can get the buzz too. All seems fine. Yet this is what I mean when I ask if it’s play-healthy: it’s not so easy to differentiate if you’re taking over the play or not if the child is buzzing along with it too. It’s worth repeating again and again that children’s play is not about you. Your play is your play . . .

Children do often invite (cue) the adult into play though, right? Children do often seem to very much want the adult to be involved. This is a really moot point for some playwork writers out there: children should play with other children and not with adults. I have no problem with the idea that children playing with other children is what they need most; however, in play settings (where adults are necessarily there, and this is often considered to be an unnatural state of affairs), and more pertinently outside play settings, in family situations for example, children do often — though not always — have a very great desire to involve adults in the play. This is what does happen. When this does happen, and here’s the repeated thinking again, isn’t that ‘unplayed out material’ type of adulteration bound to occur? (I write this as someone who has read in and around the deeper gestalt levels of the Colorado Paper, the ‘analytic third’, and so on).

Sturrock and Else write, in the Colorado Paper (about the ‘reflective integrity’ of the role of a playworker when trying to preserve the meaning of the play for the playing child):

Obviously, this is a delicate and sensitive task and open to many kinds of adulteration, but it is one we see as being central to the judgement and skills of playwork practice.

They’re saying, as I read it, that it’s children’s play but we may be sensitively involved in that. However, I come back to the idea that ‘unplayed out material’ adulteration is bound to occur if the adult is invited into the children’s play. In other words, being PC (playwork correct) about it all: children have invited the adult into the play (see playwork appropriate intervention styles: wait to be invited to play) therefore — now being non-PC — from their perspectives, children are accepting that adults will play too. Perhaps, and also whisper this quietly in playwork circles, children are sometimes actively seeking adult play ideas by way of their involvement.

I know, playwork aficionados: saying that is tantamount to heresy! I don’t write this to justify any personal recent involvement in children’s play, I write it because I’m thinking it through.

Let’s get back to towing the party line (for a few lines here, at least). My disclaimer is that I do understand the theory and the practice involved in the sensitive preservation (‘holding’) of children’s own play ‘frames’ (that reflective integrity), and the potential for adulteration and what that means, i.e. that we might be involved but it’s about the child not the adult. The idea of adulteration is that the adult can, but shouldn’t, impact negatively on the playing intentions of the child. In my own thinking, this amounts to an ‘unfaithfulness’ to the play and, I suppose, to the playing child. It’s true to say that all true playworkers, the converted to whom I preach, get a buzz out of the observation and consideration of play; some may even get a buzz from involvement by invitation in children’s play. The buzz could soon become more about the playworker though. After all, don’t we all have unplayed out material in us? Get back to the PC: we need to know that children’s play is not about us. We need to be able to differentiate between their play and our play. Yet, shifting away from the PC again, children do often invite us into play, and maybe — maybe — they actually want our play ideas sometimes too. The heresy of it!

This can’t be right, can it? All my playwork nerves are starting to get very anxious at the suggestion of it. I have an urgent need to try to talk myself out of this. Children’s play content and intent is about them; it doesn’t have anything to do with what the adult suggests. How can children’s play that includes the adult’s ideas then be the children’s play? The play becomes a fused engagement: it is the product of the play of the child and the ‘unplayed out material’ of the adult.

That can’t be right, can it?
 
 
Medial intervention (Colorado Paper): Following the issued play cues of the child, the playworker becomes involved in the essential structures of the play. The immediate frame of the child’s play now includes the presence/ideas/wishes/knowledge/authority and status of a playing adult. The playworker is reading this frame, and their involvement, at the same time as being a playing participant.
 
 

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
 
 

Beyond being just out of sorts

How do you know your children are out of sorts? Or just slightly more than simply out of sorts? Sometimes they’re just not themselves, not there in themselves; something almost too tiny to spot for other people who don’t know them well. What do you see that, to others, just gets absorbed in the whole slop and swill of the play space they’re in? What tells you that you’re focused hard on your children as individuals?

Do they get spooked by strange things, things that don’t usually bother them? Just tiny agitations that others might ignore or not pick up on. Things like momentary, out of character and only very occasional selective mutism. Things like a fleeting irrational response (even more irrational than the irrationality that play is). Things like a sudden look or twitch?

Do they give up on their usual play cues? Are corners or other places in the environment – where unreturned or rejected cues happened – shied away from, ignored, taken aggressive grievance against? Can you see the usual manner of cues, for any individual child, shifting slightly into other types of cues?

Do the children you’re observing, focusing on, find it difficult to absorb themselves in the play flow? What’s causing this? Are they preoccupied, do you think? Is there too much or too little stuff? Are you in the way? Are you in the way even if you think you’re well out of the way? Following on from some of Bob Hughes’ thinking, in the quantum world – the science of the very small – at the atomic level, the instrument used to observe an electron (so, a light beam) affects that electron. Zoom back out: is it the very fact that you, the instrument of observation, are observing that child that affects their ability to drop into play flow? Is the child out of sorts because of you?

Is the child associating what happened with some play resource, on any other day, or in any other place with a similar play resource, in a negative way? Did the feel of that resource affect them, or the way it broke suddenly, or the way it fell down and trapped them underneath for a few seconds? Do your children seem to merge days and play and resources into one huge swill? Is it as if time and space and objects can be easily interchanged with other time/space/object constructs? That’s not to say your children can’t differentiate, simply put, one place or time from another; rather, I wonder how time and space runs through children.

Just how much are your children picking up on your own mood? You’re hot, you’re tired, you’re hungry, you’re feeling slow to respond. You do respond, return cues; you do this in good time for your child to be vaguely satisfied, but it’s all vague, it’s all ‘not quite quality enough’ for them. They know you’re returning, though not in those words; they know you’re mostly there; they know you’re not totally with it. Their subsequent play cues aren’t exactly aberrant, dys-play, perceivable as aggressive, ‘wrong’: they’re just listless cues. They cue but they half-cue.

How do you know when your children are out of sorts? Do you know them well enough, within the context of the general slow-motion maelstrom or great huge whirl of the whole group, to be able to look beyond ‘they’re feeling tired, unwell, hot’? What’s unseen, beyond what we usually see?
 
 

Structure and frameworks of freedom

Where do you start on a new blog? In the middle. Jump right in, I guess. So, to get things kick-started, there follows a version of a posting I made recently on the Playwork Bloggers Network forum. Morgan Leichter-Saxby asked: Do adult-structured activities have a place in playwork?

This throws up the question of children’s freely chosen play.

I’ve done a fair amount of thinking on ‘freely chosen’ over the last couple of days. Sure, ‘freely chosen’ is the pink and fluffy ideal, but last time I looked we don’t live in Utopia. We do live in reality. There’s an argument to say that we can always strive for the best situation/deal/quality in anything though (as opposed to the Homer Simpson school of thinking: trying is the first step towards failure!)

Recently [in the PBN forum], I wrote: The question asked must depend on what this thing called ‘structure’ is.

Vicky Edwards wrote: Would you agree it’s more of a case of the children not knowing how to play how the adult wants/thinks they should play?

Suzanna Law wrote: Sometimes it’s not all that simple. And ‘structured play’ might fall into this category.

Morgan wrote about: Adults having an ideal form of play that they expect to see, and then viewing children’s other choices as somehow deficient.

I’m reminded of Gordon [Sturrock] and Perry [Else]’s writing in the Colorado Paper (1998), where they make reference to Heidegger’s thinking on freedom not being limitless but contained. Now, this is easily misinterpretable. As I understand it, in the context of what’s written in that paper, by developing our own frameworks, containers, boundaries, ‘structures’, call it what you will, we can engage in freedom within the boundedness of our play ideas. It is the play idea of the player. It is not an imposed structure. The child at play creates the play frame and the playworker can help to preserve the meaning of this frame. The child has choices and freedom to manoeuvre in that engagement. Perhaps the playworker’s containment is a form of ‘structure’ in itself, but it’s a holding of the frame created by the child. It’s not imposed, the child’s frame ‘shape’ is negotiable by way of play.

Digging it out: ‘Containment,’ write Sturrock and Else, ‘. . . has been taken to an extreme in playcare with content and programme provided by the adult.’

So, this makes sense to me. ‘Structure’ isn’t a simple concept. Sometimes children will want, and do often enjoy, adult-devised things to do (activities). That said, there’s also an argument to say that children operate only in the realms of what they already know or are accustomed to. ‘Consult’ with children about what food/activities they’d like and, often, they’ll tell you about what they’ve had/done that day, or last week, rather than what’s outside their experience base. So, if children are only offered ‘structured’ or imposed activities, they’re not going to know what creating their own frameworks of freedom feels like.

And sure, children will sometimes engage in play in return for some extrinsically motivated reward (call it bribery!) Done too often though and a negative Pavlovian stimulus-response loop gets set up. That said, we should give consideration to the concept of ‘free will’ (not in the theological sense, but philosophically).

OK, distilling all of this down, where I’m going with all this is that children ought really to be deciding their play, of course, and if they want to use the clay to make pots and dragons and nests and stuff, fair enough; however, adult structured ‘now today we’re doing clay or football or drawing, that’s it, choose’ is about the adults’ needs for structure for the sake of it, order, control, dominance, a quiet time, outcomes, the playcare brand, etc etc.

I should write my own blog!

[Here it is!]
 
 

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