What is Playwork anyway?

16 Oct

I remember the first time I heard of Playwork.

At the time I was working for an agency doing Teaching Assistant cover work in primary schools across London. Mostly the job involved getting children to be quiet, sit still, stand in a straight line, with some literacy and numeracy support, story telling, photocopying, break and lunch duties.

One morning, 7am, I called up the agency to pester them for work. They needed someone at a school in Bow, just round the corner. Off I went.

When I arrived, the Headteacher asked me into her office. That doesn’t normally happen when a cover TA arrives at a school. I had been told by the agency that the school needed someone to do general cover in a year 4 class. The headteacher explained that what they actually needed was someone to support a year 1 boy with complex needs and language delay. She explained that they usually had trouble finding cover to work with him because he was known to hit out at staff and pupils, would often run away and was seen as a challenge to work with. I would have the morning to get to know him alongside his usual support worker, and would support him over lunch. In the afternoon I’d be in the year 4 class. It was just a lunch time. I could do that.  I agreed to give it a go.

I was taken to meet the boy and his support worker. I had a brilliant morning getting to know both of them. The support worker was a trained Playworker. He was amazing. I had never seen anyone in formal education with such a child centered approach. He had designed a parallel time-table which included plenty of outdoor time to help the pupil blow off steam. He, at every point, was an allie and an advocate, helping the boy to be accepted and supported by the other children in the class, despite the fact that he would often hit or pull hair. The support worker laid the ground work to making learning an enjoyable and exciting game, always working at the pupils’ pace. He told me that outside of school he was involved in several local youth clubs. What an impressive guy.

The pupil was also amazing. The three of us practiced Makaton together. His face lit up.

At lunch time me and the pupil made our way to the lunch hall. We queued and got his food. He showed me to the table he usually sat at. The other children at that table signed to him. Each had a Makaton name. One girl was known as ‘drink’ because she would often go and get a glass of water for the pupil. It was such a supportive, cooperative environment and it seemed obvious to me that the ground work laid by his support worker had played a central role. 

At the end of my lunch time with the pupil, he gave me such a warm smile and a wave. I was told that he often struggles to connect with people. I had done well.

I left the school that day feeling like I finally had some kind of an answer that pointed in the same direction as my intuition about working with children. I set the aim that day to look into Playwork more.

Since then I’ve completed Playwork NVQ level 3, worked on 4 playschemes, got a job as a sessional worker on Hackney Playbus and now work regularly 1-2-1 supporting a young person with Aspergers Syndrome. In each of these roles I’ve carried with me the inspiration that I got that day. I really think that such a focus on play has led me to take risky decisions that I wouldn’t have other wise; Setting up Fool’s Prints, for example.


One Response to “What is Playwork anyway?”


  1. Fool’s Prints 1 year on « Fool's Prints - January 2, 2011

    […] October I published a post called ‘What is Playwork Anyway?’ which took me by surprise by attracting LOADS of views. It turns out that it had been in the […]

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