Tag Archives: play

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!

Reflections from Playwork Study Tour in Ireland

15 Jul

Recently I went on a Playwork Study Tour to Ireland thanks to Ip-D!p. During the trip I kept a reflective diary. The trip was a fantastic insight into Play in other countries and despite the small geographical distance between England and Ireland, there was a lot to reflect on.

Having a History of Childcare

Despite being geographically so close, Ireland has a very different attitude towards childcare. Being a Catholic country, Ireland is much more traditional in it’s values than England. There is a much greater expectation that mothers will stay at home to look after their children, or that this work will be done within the extended family. Consequently, there is no where near the level of childcare provision enjoyed by families in England.

One of our visits was to Little Acorns Children’s Centre in Galway, run by Michelle Shelvin. The centre offers day care, pre-school and an after school club. The centre, set in Galway’s famously beautiful countryside, uses minibuses to drive in children from several different schools for after-school activities. It is one of few centres of this kind.Image

Michelle was a wonderful host and after showing us around the beautiful site, complete with chickens and a geodesic dome which is soon to house giant sand and water play, she took the time out to talk to us about childcare in Ireland. She explained how Article 41.2 of the Irish Constitution (1937) states that;


“…the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved…The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties to the home.”


This means that the Irish equivalent of  Child Benefit is designed to sustain child and mother and that the expectation that women will stay at home is entrenched. As Michelle described it, Ireland does not have a history of childcare and so there are not the same number of options for and access to childcare as there is in England.

Michelle described how this is beginning to change since 2000 when the government brought in The Equal Status Act. Under the act it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of gender, marital status and family status, amongst many other things. This does not just relate to employment but also access to all public and private sector facilities and services. This meant that attention was turned towards childcare, in order to enable women to access facilities, services and employment equally.

This particular centre started out life in 1999 with 6 children based in a local community hall. With the changes in legislation, Little Acorns now looks after 65 children at any one time, catering for 0-13 year olds in a purpose built site which opened in 2009. In 2010 the centre began to offer new statutory free pre-school places as children are now entitled to 15 hours a week for free and subsidised day care for people on income support. Previously, children were starting formal education from 4 years old, due to the lack of childcare provision, but now, with free pre-school places, children are starting school at around 5. Michelle explained that even these first years at school are not play based, so having the extra time in more play focused settings can make a lot of difference.

It was very interesting and valuable to be able to gain this insight into Ireland’s different attitudes towards children and childcare, and gave a bit of context to our other visits and discussions.

Early Years and Playwork

It was interesting to visit a children’s centre on our playwork study tour. For those of the group that work in clear-cut playwork settings, such as the adventure playgrounds, it perhaps gave context to Irelands attitudes to children and childcare, but I gained more from the experience.

It made me reflect more directly on my own work. One of my roles is as a Playworker on a busy, inner city playbus. We exist on that fine line between Early Years and Playwork (although the line can be fine at times, the ethos’ couldn’t be more different) in recent years we have evolved to tune in more with the Early Years agenda in order to get and keep funding. We now work closely with a number of children’s centres and are regularly commissioned as part of their outreach service.

Catering for under 5’s at a ‘stay and play’ type mobile facility also constrains our ability to provide what some theorists would call authentic play or adult free play, since parents/carers remain with their children. At a busy session we could be catering for 50 children with their 45 parents and carers all with their different attitudes and beliefs towards children and play.

It sounds pretty much like early years to me, so where does playwork come in to it, I hear you ask. I guess on the bus it is captured by the attitudes of the staff and the ethos of the setting. I think it was in a Bob Hughes book, although I can’t remember where, that highlighted the underlying permissiveness that gives adventure playgrounds and playworkers their unique feel and that is definitely what we have on the bus.

In the summer, when we take over chunks of parks with the bus and lots of outdoor toys, we sometimes include scrap and loose parts into this. In the past this has led to some fantastic den and structure building, messy painting and imaginative role play.

At Little Acrons Children’s Centre, Michelle talked about how she had bought some tools for the children to make things out of wood but had not got them out yet. She was lacking in confidence to know where to start. After a member of our group shared how she had introduced tools and wood work into her after-school facilities, Michelle said she would give it a go. This made me think that at my setting, we should be thinking of further ways to enable children to experience things that they wouldn’t else where, and to try to bring as much of that spirit of permissiveness as we can whilst still fulfilling the needs of our community of parents. I’ll be reflecting on this further!



No Playworkers Here

Early on in the tour we met up with Debbie Clarke, Play Development Worker at Dublin Council who helped to arrange our visits around Ireland. One of the first things she explained was that there are no Playworkers in Ireland. There are play settings but these are usually connected to Early Years, sports or youth work rather than play in itself.

Debbie explained that the anti-obesity agenda had driven a lot of children’s facilities. 25% of Ireland’s 3 year olds are obese, according to Michelle at Little Acrons where they have a quarter mile running track built into their garden area where exercise sessions are held.

We visited Charlesland’s Shoreline Centre in County Wicklow which highlighted well the way in which sport and play are very inter linked. Domonick and Sue, managers at the centre showed us around.

ImageWithin it’s 20 acre site the Shoreline Centre offers Ireland’s largest skate park, a small playground, health and sports clubs for the whole community (from jogging sessions for women with buggies to OAP sessions), including being home to the local children’s baseball team, an outdoor gym and a number of all weather football and basketball courts. At all the sports clubs, children have the option not to join in and could use the sites other facilities instead. Children’s use of these facilities is either free or at a large discount, meaning they can play sport on an all weather pitch for just 1Euro each. The site is able to raise funds to pay staff from the money adults pay to use the facilities.

The centre looked and felt like a sports centre but Domonick definitely understood the need for children to encounter risk. When developing the facilities at the site, Domonick had some trouble convincing the insurers that the skate park was a risk worth taking. After some discussion the insurers agreed but with a lower age limit of who could use the ramps set at 10 years old. Once the park was opened, he had a similar discussion with local parents too. After their children had their first go on the skate park and fell off, several parents complained of it being ‘a death trap’. Domonick stood up for the importance of children encountering risk and the skate park now has a loyal group of attendees who have becoming skilled in not only using the area safely but also pulling off some pretty impressive stunts successfully. Domonick invited professional skaters to run workshops with the children and young people who use the ramps. He said the first lesson they ran was on the right way to fall. Although Domonick was running a very sports focused centre, he talked like a Playworker about children and risk.

We visited a youth work project that was based in Ballymun’s huge estates. The area is undergoing a massive regeneration plan which has experienced some complications and is not moving as fast as planned. Consequently, this area, which already had a lot of social problems, is currently part new build, part old, part empty, part derelict waiting to be knocked down, part building site. Some of the regeneration money meant that a small community hall has been transformed into a purpose built youth centre called the Reco, run by Bryr Youth Resource and complete with dance studio, music practice room, art room, garden, IT suites and much more. The centre runs clubs for the young people of Ballymun and hosts open Fridays so that young people not signed up to clubs can use the facilities.

Here is a piece of digital art that was being displayed at The Reco:





After looking around the site we met with the centre’s parks team, led by Lindsey. There are 6 parks around Ballymun and the parks team goes to each one once a week after school for 2 hours to facilitate games with the children there during spring and summer. All of thissounds like a playranger service but the Bryr parks team are not following any model, they are responding to the need in their community and are getting their youth workers out into the parks.

We went with the team to the 3 parks they visit on a Tuesday night. The first was Coultry Park, a new, award winning park, part of the newly built section of Ballymun. Around 40 children came out to greet the parks team who wear bright yellow coats to be easily seen. The team facilitated skipping, rounders and traditional playground games like ball dog. They also had some gloves and pads and one member of staff facilitate some kick boxing practice. Again, what was being offered was mostly sports based but the buzz created in the park meant that many more children and teenagers were playing out aside from those joining in the games, either directly on the edges of the facilitated games or a way away.

We moved on to the next park, which wasn’t far away so may of the children followed the yellow coated youth workers there.

We were told the second park was only 3 years old. It clearly had not been maintained at all. There was only a few skeletons of play equipment left in it and littler and broken glass everywhere. Again, the park was full within moments of the youth workers getting there. The children got involved in games straight away. Lindsey explained that this didn’t use to be the case and that over excitement and frustration would stop children from being able to settle to games quickly. I’ve read this in a playwork theory book; That often children who are not practised at playing with others, will find it hard to maintain play frames because they do not yet have the negotiation skills or trust that their turn will come, or that sticking to a games particular rules can mean that game lasts longer and is more enjoyable for everyone. So with initial mediation and guidance from the parks team staff, the children have developed their abilities to negotiate and maintain play frames.

Here we met the other part of Bryr’s outreach work, the Street Workers, headed by Angie Birch. The Street Workers are out on the estate every evening all through the year. They seemed to be a cross between youth and social workers who work with everyone in the community. They are a familiar face and a way to access drug and alcohol support, a way to help people back into the system who have been left behind. They also run a project called Easy Street that works with gangs as gangs to help them work together on positive things. It made me wonder where services like this were where I am based in East London.

The final park we went to was further into the estate which bordered on one side by a construction site, part old housing and partly recently moved in people from another area of Ballymun. The park was small and again run down. Debbie explained that there had been football posts but these had been taken away. The small play park was literally covered in glass. Considering this was the smallest park, there were the most children. They ranged in age from 3 right up to adults if you included those who were watching from the sidelines. Here the excitement and electricity of the children over flowed and children fought over equipment. The kick boxing pads had to be put away as a small fight broke out. There was a lot of pent up energy. A mass game of football got under way attracting most of the boys, while most of the girls skipped on the sidelined. It started to rain. Many of the children were not dressed appropriately for the weather and did not go home for coats.

One member of our group went over to some teenagers sitting around the edge of the park not particularly engaging in the activities and asked them what they thought of the people in yellow coats. They said they liked them and that they would not be out in the park if the youth workers were not there.

These youth workers very much fulfilled the role of what we might call playrangers.


Although there may not be any playworkers in Ireland there are definitely a lot of projects and people that are working in similar ways and reflecting on similar challenges as those of us who call ourselves Playworkers.



Benign Neglect vs. Helicopter Parenting

A recurring theme in our group discussions was this idea of benign neglect especially in comparison to the idea of the helicopter parent. This made up a particularly large part of the discussion after we had visited the Ballymun’s Bryr youth project where lots of the children were not appropriately dressed for the weather and where Debbie had told us about a 2 ½ year old, who out by themselves, had walked onto a closed building site, had an accident and died, raising obvious questions about how a 2 year old was able to wander from home unattended.

As a group all of this got us thinking about how some level of benign neglect can afford children the opportunity to enjoy adult free play, to adventure, explore and range, to encounter risk and challenge and decide for themselves how to manage it and to have more autonomy from their parents. By benign neglect we are not referring to any level of neglect that would cause distress or harm to the children and there are obvious differences between this and a situation where and a 2 ½ year old ranging an estate unsupervised.

On the other hand you have what has come to be known as ‘helicopter parenting’ which many of us in the group had witnessed, where by children are constantly supervised, constantly having decisions made for them and often these children have very little free, unmanaged time to develop their independence, explore their own creativity and imagination or encounter and learn to over come challenges.

This is where playwork stands out from early years and childcare provisions and ethoses, in advocating for and trying to create safe settings where children can encounter risk and challenge and can work things out for themselves but where the focus is not on learning and development, but just on playing right now. Children being able to do what it is that they need to do.



Involving Parents and Carers in Child Centred Spaces

The challenge of everyone working in playwork is to create genuinely children centred spaces. These spaces are often also important parts of their wider local communities, and an important service to parents too. In group discussions we felt that it was an interesting line to tread, knowing how to involve the wider community of parents and others, and how much.

Several people in the group who work on adventure playgroups said that they involve parents and carers as little as possible, with the focus always being on the space being dictated by the children and, in a way, protected by playworkers from interference by adult agendas.

On the playbus we try to create a child centred space but we also engage a lot of parents and carers as a stay and play service. Here, we work hard to make parents and carers feel welcome, because if they don’t, they just wont come back with their children.

This is another discussion that I have taken away with me that I will continue to reflect on.



Assumed Trust in Children’s Skills and Abilities

From the parents we spoke to on the tour, in particular a man named Finbar (a father of 8), it seems there is generally more acceptance that children should and will play out and that they have abilities and skills to look after themselves and also that they will get into scrapes because ‘children will be children’. If often feels like this understanding of children is fading away, especially where I am in East London, not helped by the media. It seems society is absolutely stuck on children and young people being either little angels or little devils. Small children are vulnerable to every risk and must be protected, while those who are slightly older, or who partake in more risky play need to be controlled, tammed and feared. For example, in East London and I’m sure many other parts of the city, there are pretty permanent and large areas where Dispersal Orders are in operation. This means that police can stop, search and send home any young people in groups bigger that 2 who are out in those areas. These areas often not only cover, but target parks and other outdoor community meeting spaces. This constant criminalisation of young people is very disturbing.

So how do we get back to a position of trusting children and young people enough to allow them to encounter risk and to realise that children and young people learn from their mistakes and supporting this process.



National Pride

When we were in Ireland it was the first round of Euro 2012. Ireland played their first 2 games while we were there. All around Dublin and the surrounding area, people had decorated their houses and streets with orange green and white.

All the pubs showed the games. We were in a pub for the first game. A folk band played right up to kick off and stopped for the match. The pub was a real mix of men and women, young and old. It struck me how different an English pub would feel during an England match. Everyone watched intently. Ireland lost. The band started again and people danced. I can’t imagine that happening in an English pub.

And for the second match, Ireland fans famously sang The Fields of Athenry as they lost. People were so jolly. I wanted Ireland to win a match to see what the celebrations would look like!

Ireland’s national pride feels very different to England’s.

We went on an open top tour bus to see the sights and listen to some history. Ireland’s history is one for struggle for freedom. I’ve always been embarrassed by English pride giving nod to the centuries England exploited and abused the people of so many other places. It was nice to be somewhere that the national pride seemed to mean something positive to average people.



Making Social Problems Into Potential Opportunities

The final location we visited is one that we had talked about all week. Debbie had told us at the start of the week about Ireland’s horse culture. There are large horse markets (that now sell other animals too) around Ireland. There are monthly markets in Dublin and Galway. Here the buying and selling of animals is relatively unregulated, consequently welfare doesn’t need to be a priority. Animal welfare organisations attend the markets and rescue a lot of animals. The lack of regulation also means that anyone can buy an animal there and they are alarmingly cheap. For example, a child could go to the market and buy a horse for 20Euros. Debbie explained that this has led to there being a lot of families with horses in their back gardens or loose in the estate. She mentioned that these young people with horses are often described as delinquents.

We went to visit a community stables in Cherry Orchard, which is another large estate on the outskirts of Dublin. Here children and young people’s interest in horses is turned into an opportunity. It started off as an idea for a way for local horses to live in stables instead of ranging the estates. It soon became much more than that.

The stables are currently home to 27 horses, a lot of which have been rescued. We met one horse called Buster who was bought by the stables for 200Euros, narrowly missing being sent for slaughter to become meat.Image

They offer riding lessons, with priority to children who live in the area, for 10Euros an hour, which is a very good rate for horse riding. Currently 200 children and young people a week are attending riding lessons there! They have 40 leader volunteers who have responsibilities for the grooming and mucking out as well as helping in lessons. Leaders can then go on to gain qualifications through their work at the stables.

There are several of these community stable projects dotted around, but I got the impression that a lot more are needed. I was told that in the area around this particular stables, 1 in 3 families will have a horse. There is a demand for it too. When Cherry Orchard were waiting for the council funding to set the project up, they rallied local support and children and young people rode their horses right through the councils’ offices!


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.