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Last Child in the Woods

21 Jun

I’ve been reading Richard Louv’s ‘Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.’ I’ve heard of the concept of Nature-Deficit Disorder and felt sceptical of the term for all sorts of reasons. I thought it was time I gave the book a read to try to get my head round it further and see how it related to working with children and young people in an inner city setting. I’m only 60 pages in so I haven’t gathered my thoughts yet but I wanted to share a couple of snippets that got me thinking.

There was a child went forth every day,

And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,

And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,

Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

Walt Whitman

In the medical journal the Lancet, researchers from the University of Glasgow reported a study of toddler activity where the researchers clipped small electronic accelerometers to the waistbands of seventy-eight three year olds for a week. They found that the toddlers were physically active for only twenty minutes a day.

Gordon Orians, Professor Emeritus of Zoology at the University of Washington, says research suggests that our visual environments profoundly affect our physical and mental well-being, and that modern humans need to understand the importance of what he calls ‘ghosts’ the evolutionary remnants of past experiences hard-wired into a species’ nervous system.

As a species we crave the very shapes we now allow to be scraped away.

There are some fantastic links already between Richard Louv’s book and core ideas in evolutionary perspectives of Play theory. I’m looking forward to exploring these issues more.


The busy season for Playwork is here!

8 Jun

Now that the Spring is finally here (fingers crossed that it stays) things in the Play world are hotting up!

Hackney Playbus in Millfields Park, Hackney

Hackney Playbus, where I work, is expecting it’s busiest summer for years, with free play sessions around East London planned on 6 or 7 days of the week all through the summer holidays! Children under 5 are welcome during term time and under 8 in school holidays. If you have children and live in East London have a look at the timetable and come along. You can also stay up to date with new sessions as they are announced by following  the Playbus on Twitter and liking the Facebook Page. Can’t wait to come to play? The Playbus will the at the Well Street Common Festival, (near north side of Victoria Park) on Sunday 9th June from 12noon.


Shoreditch Adventure Playground, Hackney.

I’m also working at an Adventure Playground in Hackney which is suddenly looking very beautiful and wild with wild flowers blooming and finches chattering in the trees. Adventure Playgrounds are fantastic urban play spaces. They are designed to compensate urban children for their lack of access to adult-free wild play spaces. You will find trained and experiences Play staff who are there to support play and assess risk vs benefits in these adventurous spaces. If you live in East London you probably aren’t far from your local Adventure Playground. There are more than 80 across London. If you have children and you’ve never been in, you should go and explore. Click here to see what Adventure Playgrounds are near you. They are usually open after school, on Saturdays and during school holidays. They are free and open access, meaning children are welcome to come and go as they please. 6 -16 year olds are welcome, along with under 5s with a carer. Get out there and explore!

Along side all this playing, the book making and creative work is taking a back seat for now, but I will be making whenever I can.

I’ll also be moving…to my 10th house in 9 years.

I hope you all get out and enjoy the beautiful weather!

Thinking about playing

10 Mar

I’ve been doing a bit of reading. I’m currently reading Bob Hughes Evolutionary Playwork. I wanted to share this section with you to give you more of an insight into what Playwork is;

What do Playworkers believe? What should they believe and where should those beliefs come from?

For the thinking evolutionary Playworker, there will inevitably come a time when she asks, “Whay am I doing this?” “What is it that I am trying to do, what is it that I want to change and into what?”, and “If I were to write a Mission Statement, what would it contain, and why?”

On reflection when I first became a Playworker in 1970 my personal analysis was both shallow and naive. I wanted to help, and I wanted to do good. Having already volunteered in the local Youth Service and trained to be a teacher, I thought I had something to offer, althought the truth was, I had little idea of what that meant. This view of ‘playwork as a kind of public service’ was reinforced when I realised that the children at the playground, and their parents, came from exactly the same background as me and my parents – secondary modern educated, estate dwellers, and factory people who could perhaps do with a hand, either to maximise their life chances, or to consider different alternatives.

For my first couple of years as a Playworker, I did my ‘good’, as different situations arose, I fielded crime, behavioural issues, parental neglect and abuse, the attitudes of the authorities towards the children and their parents, violent outbursts, and community politics. But increasingly I found myself asking those difficult questions I started with. ‘Why am I doing this?’ and ‘What is it I am doing?’

I remember my epiphany well. This first playwork experience was as an adventure playworker, on a site that had been a farmyard when I had been a child, but which was now on the edge of a large and dense housing estate. I had played in the farmyard, and the surrounding countryside was well known to me. One day, whilst standing on the top platform of a tower, the children and I had built- surveying both the surrounding area and the playground, with the children going about their business – I had my first genuine insite of the context that I was working in, and that the children were playing in. What struck me initially was the change that had taken place in the twenty-six years since I had been born in that town. Where there had been firlds, now there were houses and factories. Where there had been allotments and a pond, there were just more houses. Where there had been birds’ nests, birds’ eggs, birds’ songs, newts and cattle, there were cars, parking bays and shops. And where there had been a farmyard and a pathway to the woods, there was now this adventure plauground. I wondered, ‘What difference these changes might have made to the children, and to their play? What was happening, what was going on, what was the real reaason for the playground being there?’

I began to think more about play as a need, about playing as behaviour, as an interaction of the child’s inner world with the external, as what I now call a ‘bio-evolutionary’ phenomenon; I began comparing what I had done as a child – how I had been able to do it, why I had done it – with the situation that the children on the playground were experiencing. This period and that process, together with later arguments and evidence presented in numerous texts, formed what is the basis of my own beliefs and convictions about play and playwork… However, we should remember that everyone, playworker or not, has their own valid story to tell about that play means to them.


A week in the life of a Playworker/Maker: Tuesday

29 Feb

Tuesday morning I was up bright and early for the very indirect commute from Tower Hamlets to Walthamstow where the Playbus hosts a morning play session funded by the local children’s centre.

The parents and careers at this session are always there waiting for the bus, their children literally jumping up and down in excitment. This week was very busy with 15 under 5’s along to play. I was talking to one parent who lives the other side of Walthamstow where we used to have another session funded by another children’s centre. We haven’t got the funding to carry on there and as we finished up our work  they were under going some staffing cuts and reshuffles that really affected their brilliant outreach and family support workers. Walthamstow, they told me, has seen a massive number of centre closures and cuts.

No front line cuts they keep saying. Every now and then they blab on about bridging the opportunity gap between the rich and poor. As if. East London has a desperate shortage of nursary places and its the kids from the more deprived areas who always miss out, their parents not being able to afford private care. Children’s centres have done a fantastic job of giving all children access to play sessions where they can explore and socialise with other children and where parents can meet each other, support each other and access all kinds of other services that they might well have missed out on otherwise (speach and language advice, legal advice, language classes). The playbus is used by the children’s centres to reach families who are less likely to go to the centres or access any services, as we can park right on their street and are an easy first place to come. For these kids to have a good start they need the space and opportunity to play. This government aren’t just taking these opportunities away in a short term sense, they are undoing the infrastructure that was only just beginning to make a difference.

Tuesdays session was lots of fun. We blew up baloons and all the kids loved chasing them around. Kids who, at the start of the session were very shy and clingy to their parents, were running around independently by the end. As the bus drives off there’s always a few tears but we will be back next week.

After packing away from the busy session, I had some time to kill. On Tuesdays I work on the bus in the morning and then at an adventure playground after school. A big gap but not big enough to go home and come out again. Thats what comes of working several jobs where each are just a few hours at a time. I went for lunch and tried to come up with some fundraising plans for the playbus. I’ve got a few ideas. Then, as the weather was so warm I headed to the park. Absolutly beautiful scattered with spring flowers and ducks.

Come 3.15pm I arrived at the playground which is especially for children and young people with disabilities and special needs. I’ve not been working there long and am still getting to know the other staff and the children. minibuses bring the children straight from their schools or their homes to the playground. Each member of staff is designated to work 1:1 with one of the children, so once you arrive and help get the place set up, it’s a waiting game for when your 1:1 arrives. The last few times my 1:1 hasn’t arrived and so I am on general duties. This has proved a great way to get to know the other staff. For example, if there is a young person who is known to take all of their clothes off, then I’m able to support the member of staff working 1:1 with that young person to help get them sorted and back out playing. I also relieve people if they need a break. Yesterday, when I relieved one member of staff I was launched into some wonderful imaginative outdoor play. The young person and I layed back on the grass and gazed at the sky which was slowly turning pink. There were tigers hiding out there, bees in the ground and spiders everywhere! (of the imaginary type). Later I joined in with the musical genious who was enjoying playing the keyboard at maximum volume, holding one key at a time. His eyes were closed and he rocked his head just like all the old blues greats. With his other hand he grabed a brightly coloured underella and moved it hypnotically to the durge, breaking into a big smile.

Before we knew it it was time to pack up and get on the minibuses to go home. After being an escort on one of the buses, I was finished for the day; back on the bus to Tower Hamlets.

In the evening, we made the most of the mild weather and planned to walk along the river to a pub in Wapping. Off we went. Every few yeards the pathway was blocked with locked gates. The water front here has been well and truely privatised. Where not so long ago where wharehouses and dockers pubs there’s now luxury developments and gated communities all claiming their own private chunk of the public right of way. In a crack between two houses were were lucky enough to discover an accessible bit of beach. The Thames is so beautiful and should be accesible to all.

 Then, as if some ominous threat, floating past on the river goes a boat pulling some giant olympic rings…as if we needed reminding. As if most people’s lives in London, especially east, haven’t been affected in some annoying way or other since they announced we were to host them. The people of East London knew or have quickly come to learn that these games are not for them and actually, if their lives get in the way of the plans to woo the worlds dignitaries it’ll be no contest who will win. All those I’ve spoken to are dreading the summer. Money has a way of ruining everything.

Making lines and breaking rules

22 Feb

I’ve fallen a bit behind with the blogging.

The life of a Playworker and maker is a busy one if you are hoping to actually be able to sustain it. I’ve now got three different Playwork jobs each with unpredictable sessional hours. As well as working on Hackney Playbus and 1:1 with a young teenager with Aspergers Syndrome, both of which I have done for nearly 2 years, I have just started working on an Adventure Playground of children with disabilities and special needs based in Hackney. It’s a fantastic and crazy place to work. I certainly can’t say I am ever bored at work.

I am really enjoying being around some amazing people with a brilliant playwork ethos; child-led, rule breaking, boundary pushing, based on the personality of the child not their diagnosis. It’s fantastic seeing the creative ways playworkers use to interact with the kids. For example, there is one child who enjoys going into a particular part of the soft-play area which makes it impossible to get them out and then taking all their cloths off. A team of staff are on hand to initiate all kinds of games that might possibly lead to this child deciding they are going to put their clothes on and come out. Some have included one staff member putting the clothes on and all other staff complementing them loudly on their excellent fashion sense, continuing a previous game of running from a tiger…which obviously requires getting dressed(!) and bursting into renditions of ABBA songs and inviting her to dance. Brilliant. Can you imagine how differently a school (for example) would deal with this kind of behaviour. I LOVE Playwork.

I’ve also been making notebooks and you can see my collection so far here in my Online Shop. Hopefully you’ll see a dramatic improvement in the picture quality of the books as I am learning more and more about how best to present things as well as getting to grips with my camera. I was chuffed recently to recieve a book order from Australia(!!) and wrapped it up like a present to post it. I got some really lovely feedback;

I received the notebook safe and sound. Thank you so much for asking. Its tucked away in a draw waiting for an upcoming trip to Thailand.. I always keep a journal when I am away somewhere. Kinda nice too look back on. Fill it with memories and what not. You did a really good job with it. Will be buying for you again.

Very exciting! I then got a lovely message from someone else on Etsy;

Hello, I absolutely LOVE your a5 notebooks. I’m wondering if you are able to do some with lined pages? I would use them as university books.  I’ve looked everywhere for good quality paper notebooks with interesting cover designs and these are the only ones I’ve found without going “status” moleskine. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Ooooo, how exciting is that! I’ve put off making lined books previously for the simple reason that…I don’t know where to get the lines from. Sounds stupid  I know, but to make an A5 lined notebook you need horizontally lined landscape A4 paper. Haveing looked before I knew I couldn’t buy it anywhere so I drew then lines myself. Here is my first lined notebook (click on the picture to see the inside);

The lines inside are a bit too dark so I’m working on making them more faint before I make more but whatch out for this space if you’re more into lines.

Right. I’m off to enjoy my first proper day off for 14 days after an action packed half term.


The child’s place is in the playground

5 Dec

After going to the East London Play Conference a couple of weeks ago, and hearing Bob Hughes, ‘play philosopher’ talk, I decided it was time I got stuck into more play theory. I know that playwork is better and more radical that I currently think it is. I know this because the more playworkers I meet, the more I realise it’s not just the odd one or two who are radical, progressive and anarchist, it’s most of them. And the theory doesn’t disappoint.

This is from the introduction to Playwork; Theory and Practice edited by Fraser Brown (2003)

Today there are playgrounds, kindergartens, uniformed groups and after-school clubs – a plethora of places where children are socialized to the adult concept of play. The unwritten assumption is that play must always be good for children. It is organised and sanitized, both in physical and social terms. It is important here not to lay blame upon, or criticize professionals, who give so much of themselves in the pursuit of fostering children’s play, The critique is not about individual human behaviour, but about the broad-scale hegemony of contemporary society to which play professionals fall victim just as much as parents and children. This is the hegemony of economic rationalism, which demands that humans must be productive; that this requires seriousness and diligence; and that the task of any child is to become a productive adult. The child’s world is constructed around the idea of play being a preparation for the rigours of adult life. Adulthood is perceived as being serious and productive. Regrettably, many branches of the play movement have fallen victim to this industrial hegemony. They see play purely in terms of developmental preparation, and voice rhetoric about the beneficial results of play in the development of children. Children are not encouraged to run because it is joyful and stimulating, but rather so that they will run faster than their peers, and win races against them. Of course, play has substantial developmental benefits, but that is not its one and only purpose.

The industrial revolution and its accompanying urbanisation left us with another important legacy. In spite of the rhetoric about the family, economic efficiency has meant that people are classified in terms of their relevance to the industrial state – so everyone has their place. The child’s place is in the playground, nursery, after-school club, etc. One of the important results of this is that idealized play, in so far as the ideal is allowed to survive, has been located in the world of children. The extent to which the play movement has focused its attention and vision on children is one of its most striking features. By maintaining that play belongs to the realm of children, the movement may have aided the depiction of play as trivial.

Most discussions about children’s play seems to assume it is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated behaviour, undertaken for its own sake… However…even within that framework, there are almost as many definitions as authors, a plethora of explanatory understandings, and a shift in thinking from looking at the extent to which play is good, to asking what is it good for and how might it help children develop into adults. One of the problems resulting from this is that much of what adults do, supposedly in the interests of children, is seriously misguided. In practice it only serves to marginalize play and make its finest realization more difficult to attain. Many well-intentioned play providers, whether they realize it or not, are merely adults taking control of children’s lives – i.e removing the very essence of play from the child’s experience…In supervised play settings, our desire to protect children and keep them safe from harm often mitigates against the child’s freedom to experiment, take risks and experience challenges. The excessive programming of after-school clubs interferes with the spontaneity and personal direction of  that we might expect to be characteristic of any child-centred provision.

Playwork is not a branch of community work. It is not youth work with children. It should not be used as a mechanism to enable social workers to make contact with troublesome families. It has little to do with homework clubs.Nor should it be viewed as a fortunate by-product of the drive to increase the nation’s workforce. At the root of all those approaches is an adult agenda.

Sometimes life gets in the way of printing

23 Oct

What a crazy few months it’s been.

Personally I have helped support the young person with Aspergers Syndrome that I work 1-2-1 with to start settling into a new school. It’s a real challenge for people with very complex needs to be understood and included in mainstream settings. Staff in schools are all working at capacity and taking the time out to get to grips with a particular young persons needs too often falls to the bottom of the priorities. In the mean time, a fantastic young person it made to feel like they are the one failing. There’s lots to be done. I hope that soon the school will get to grips with her needs and she will flourish there.

I’ve been working on the Hackney Playbus. We’ve been thinking of ways to loby to try to secure funding for spring. We are currently commissioned by Sure Start Children’s Centres and no matter what you have heard about Hackney’s Children’s Centres not being hit by cuts, they certainly are on a much tighter budget. To find out more about Hackney Playbus check out their website  and if you know anyone you might like to support us please pass it on.

I’ve also moved house but still based in Hackney. They say it’s one of the most stressful things you can do and they really aren’t exagerating. Especially when London is facing a massive housing crisis. There just isn’t anywhere coming up for rent and the places that are around seem to be about £100 more expensive a month than they were a year ago. So I find myself in an unusually precarious housing position at the moment, which has led to there being less printing. I’m hoping to get back to it asap.

Things are getting tough and people are fighting back. The Ocupy movement is springing up all over the world, and London has it’s very own occupations at St Pauls and now Finsbury Square. I went to St Pauls the day it started but haven’t been back. What do people make of it?

And we’ve witnessed a serious fight over the eviction of Dale Farm traveller’s site in Essex. I was lucky enough to hear some of the residents speak about what happened at a meeting yesterday. They are going to carry on fighting and the supporters are going to be setting up a Travellers’ Solidarity Network. I hope to get involved. I’ll post more news as I find out more.

The days are getting shorter but the weather is still beautifully mild. It’s been a beautiful Autumn that almost let me believe that it was still summer. With Autumn comes new beginnings. Not so far for me at them moment but I’m seeking them out.

Well, just a quick message to restart the regular posting. Hope everyone is well.