Dear politicians, playing children bring communities together – but they need you to protect their space

10 Apr

Policy for Play

Over 100 playworkers and play advocates have united to refute the UKIP claim that immigration stops children playing out together, and to highlight the real reasons for the decline in outdoor play.

This is a copy our letter, which is being sent to 3000 election candidates today, calling for government support for community play.

Play advocates are encouraged to adapt it with examples and quotes from families to use in local campaigns*

*Please remove signatories if the letter is altered in any way.

Children, allegedly not playing together because of their different backgrounds,                                                     send a message to UKIP Children, allegedly not playing together because of their different backgrounds, send a message to UKIP

Dear Candidate,

Following the recent assertion, from Nigel Farage of UKIP, that immigration divides communities to the extent that children can no longer play outside together, we would like to assure you that in our experience of supporting community play over many years, this is not true.

We would, however, like…

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Be Happy, Don’t Let Education and Stress Take Over Your Life.

5 Mar

Out of the mouths of babes! More play, less stress. Wise words. 🙂

Harrison Davis

From an early age we are hounded about how important passing our exams are and constantly forced to decide what we want to do when we are older. When in reality how are we supposed to know when we are yet to experience the world and discover our true passions? 12 year olds should not be worried about how much money they are going to earn when they are older or what the media will think of them if they don’t get all of their predicted grades, they should be playing with friends and enjoying their childhood. The amount of pressure put on the youth of today is relentless and quite disgusting. I currently attend sixth form and it’s just not a nice environment, if people aren’t at sixth form they are complaining about the stress it causes, and there’s been a freakish number of occasions where people in my…

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Playday musings & a mildly disturbing observation.

13 Aug

This year I was invited to hold a #playday2013 event in the grounds of a nursery that my company works closely with. Yay! I love Playday, so I I jumped at the chance to advocate with different children & parents in a different setting.

Now the setting would melt most of your hearts. Very rural. Almost in the middle of nowhere. The nursery set in a redundant school building so old & beautiful it is listed & surrounded by a field, a green & abundant field. This field was surrounded by trees of all shapes & sizes, some of which had been pollarded leaving an interesting array of logs. There were mounds of earth created by moles & little rabbit burrows around the edges, daises growing in pretty clusters everywhere. The ancient village stocks were also still there & in full working order!!

I was excited by the environment & set about putting out all manner of loose parts, big & small (and this is for Morgan!) in the style of “Pop Up Adventure Play. Huge boxes, Camo nets, curtains, rope, tape etc, etc, etc.

Children began to arrive & the the staff from the nursery also came out with their children & I watched. A group of children built guns, rockets & an army house. Others built huge towers with some of the boxes. I watched. I chatted to parents about what Playday is all about. I provided assistance when asked & took my cue when a boy found one of the water pistols & soaked me, racing around the field trying to soak him back while he shrieked in delight. I then watched some more. I took some photos.

Now you might be reading this & thinking, “sounds like a great Playday”, & it was, I had so much fun. But something was bothering me. Really bothering me. Has it occurred to any of you yet?

There we were surrounded by the most natural play resources on the planet, offering so much possibility, so much exploration & so many opportunities for risk taking. Do you know what?…… Not one child, not a single one even noticed or engaged with any of the natural elements that were available that day. Not once. We were there from 10.30 – 4pm. Nobody went near a tree, messed with the mole hills or even got in the stocks!

I’m still not sure what this observation tells me. I’m still pondering & reflecting. I have talked to others about my disappointment. I know what I’m scared of & what I think it tells me, but am I ready to admit that?

Are many children pre-programmed from such an early age nowadays that by the time playworkers get chance to work with them it’s almost too late? Programmed to just engage with whatever is “provided” for them & not see what is possible in the stuff nature provides?

One mum who came along with three boys told me how they were “typical” boys. And they were in the fact that they wanted to play with guns & rockets, but these had to be made from craft materials, not the wealth of interestingly shaped twigs & sticks that where everywhere. They didn’t show any interest in climbing or manhandling the youngest brother in to  the stocks & throwing things at him. They didn’t want to kick up the mole hills, or dig out the rabbit holes, or even hurl dry rabbit droppings at eachother!! All the stuff I imagined would happen, didn’t.

This upset me at the time, & almost a week on is still nagging at me. Do we provide too much stimulation? Are children so used to being told what to play with that it wouldn’t occur to them to look for anything other than what is “put out for them”? Am I worrying too much because at the end of the day they played freely & followed their own interests? But did they? Or did they really believe that “stuff” is the only stuff you can play with because they have no affinity whatsoever with the natural environment?

So was it freely chosen, or by providing non natural loose parts in such a natural arena was I actually saying to them that the natural stuff was out of bounds? Did they feel it would please the adults if they played with our stuff rather than went & climbed the trees? Was I supposed to tell them all the natural stuff was also available to them? (Why should I need to?) Did I just get it really wrong? I’m still struggling with my thoughts, & probably will be for some time yet. I’m not even sure if this post is entirely coherant!!!!

Thoughts & musings of others would be gratefully received at this stage.

Does SACERS adulterate play?

6 Oct

Does SACERS adulterate play?.

Does SACERS adulterate play?

6 Oct

SACERS. (School Aged Child Care Ratings Scales.) Anyone heard of this?
I hear about it almost daily! I teach Playwork at level 2 & 3 & every week one of my students has another problem with SACERS, or has had another restriction imposed on their provision of free play opportunities. Some play based settings are being told that they must do enhanced provision planning for their 5 to 11 year olds!???????? I’m confused, & a little saddened by this.
Here’s how it works:
You’re loving your job. You’ve got yourself a playwork qualification. You’ve made numerous improvements since your training like intoducing more loose parts, allowing the children more freely chosen play, taking the structure out, so they own what happens every night. You stand back & observe & are pleased to see happy, busy, engaged children doing amazing stuff. There’s no conflict. Children of mixed ages & genders are playing together, working together, problem solving together. It warms your heart.
Then your Development Worker comes to visit & tells you you’re going to be assessed on the SACERS. You think, well it’s brilliant here, the kids love it, we’ll score really highly. It’s all good surely?
Your development worker tells you you’ll be marked down because you’re not making the children wash their hands every 30 seconds. (If they pick something up off the floor, if they blow their nose, if they, god forbid, touch a bit of mud) They tell you you’ll also be marked down because you have not written an activity plan because the children should only be engaging in freely chosen play for 2 thirds of the time.
I could go on. (Honestly I could!)
Is there nowhere left on the planet where kids can just be kids?
As a parent I have used after school clubs & I expected my children to be able to engage in leisure time, play, choose, be masters of their own destiny. I thought that’s what I was paying for. Somewhere they could go after their long day of structure, rules & regulations & just be themselves. I understood that there would be some boundaries within this. Health & safety, the Welfare Requirements & such like, but overall I thought it was respected & understood that it wasn’t my children’s fault I had to work until 5 & that they were now in their own free time.

There are many tools in existence for measuring the quality of play provision. Do we need one that assesses this provision as if it were a school, or curriculum lead thing?

Are development workers misinterpreting the ratings scales? Do they need more training?

Should we be asking parents what they want out of school provision to be?

Should we be asking children the same?

Am I misguided? (I’m prepared to admit that if needs be.)

I don’t know.

What do you think?

I’d love to pull this SACERS thing apart & write a reasoned response to it that would allow out of school provision to continue to be play based provision that embraces the playwork principles. Does anyone want to help me?

Playing with risk. It’s child’s play!

2 Jun

Playing with risk. It’s child’s play!.

Playing with risk. It’s child’s play!

2 Jun


I am a playworker. I teach playwork. I am also a parent. I was a child. I remember playing. I took risks.

The other day I took a video of my children at play in my back garden. I showed it to a number of friends, colleagues & students in my playwork class.

What surprised me was that even those who work in play & play based professions seemed a little nervous at the risks my children were taking.

I’ll set the scene;

In my back garden is a large trampoline. The protective padding from around the springs at the edges has long since rotted, so these springs are uncovered. Regardless of this my children spend vast amounts of time playing on it. The trampoline sits next to a half built breeze block shed/storeroom with a plywood roof. (my garden is alot nicer than it sounds!)

It was pouring with rain so my 11 & 12 year old boys took off their t-shirts & socks & ran outside into the rain in just their shorts. They began bouncing on the trampoline & jumped from this onto the roof of the storeroom. I watched with interest to see what they would do & the first of my children jumped off the roof & did a belly flop onto the wet trampoline, which did make a sound that made me think “that had to hurt!”, but both boys were laughing & shouting like they had not a care in the world. At times they would give eachother warnings like “watch it, it’s a bit slippy there”. The second of my children took a run up across the roof & pulled his knees to his chest, performing an almost perfect dive bomb which caused him to bounce so high that he nearly went over the fence into next door’s garden! This caused much hilarity. This play went on for some time with the tricks mid-air becoming increasingly adventurous. They had a great time & came in soaked to the skin, but very happy.

So I’d recorded this thinking, “what a great example of chilren managing risk in their play”. I showed it to colleagues the next morning at work to cries of “oh my goodness” & “you let them do this?”. I showed it to a couple of my playwork learners & even they seemed surprised at the level of risk I was allowing them to take.

At ths point I’ll tell you that the distance from roof to trampoline is only about 3 feet!

These reactions have surprised & saddened me a little bit. Does this mean that our attitude to children’s play is these days one of fear? Do adults forget how much risk they took when playing as children? I know when I was a child I did far riskier things. The difference was, I think, that I played out alot more, and therefore most of the time the adults were blissfully unaware of the risks I was taking in my play.

Food for thought for parents & playworkers alike.

Bob Hughes was right to emphasise the importance of our own play memories in the development of our attitude to play as adults. (IMEE) It obviously does cause some of us to intervene where we shouldn’t. After all, my children were more than capable of managing the risk to themselves & eachother with no help at all from me!