About a week ago, twelve members of the Adventure Play New England team met with Morgan Leichter- Saxby from Pop Up Adventure Play, a non-profit organization that brings the principles of playwork to schools, museums, parks and neighborhoods. After a daylong training, we left feeling even more inspired and excited about the important role of “Playwork” in children’s lives.
Since I’m new to the field of playwork, like many of our readers, I thought it might be helpful if I talked about a few key points I learned during the training.
Playwork is NOT Education, at least in the sense that most of us use that word. Playwork provides an accessible resource to learning, but is non instructional. In other words, there is plenty of inherent learning occurring throughout the playspace, whether it’s building a pallet swing or playing with sand. Children are constantly observing, responding and making decisions in their own way, in their own time. Playworkers are not there to instruct, unless specifically asked by a child.
Playwork is a stage, not a scaffold: In education, teachers provide supports so students can master tasks and enhance learning, called scaffolding. In playwork, there is no scaffolding. Instead, we provide a steady, predictable platform for them to have the freedom to discover, play and grow.
Playwork has structure: On the surface, it would be easy to say that watching children in the midst of adventure play resembles chaos. It is actually the opposite; the framing that occurs in playwork—when children innately assign context to their play—is intensely structured. Children engage in the very serious work of framed play as part of the Play Cycle.
The Play Cycle is a critical part of development: There are 4 stages of play, which was news to me!
The first is the cue, which children give off in either a verbal (“I want to play!”) or non-verbal (eye contact) way. A return cue is given at the level it was sent: “Yes, let’s play!” or initiating parallel play.
Next, play framing occurs, which is when the children create their imaginary worlds, play games, or create wonderful inventions.
Then comes the truly beautiful part of the Play Cycle: the flow. We, as adults, know what the flow looks like, right? It’s the point where time becomes unimportant, where non-critical elements around us get filtered out, and we become deeply immersed in the work we are doing, such as writing, dancing, singing, or painting—or whatever creates flow for you. Children get into a flow state through play. As playworkers, we practice instinctive recognition and hold back so we don’t interrupt the flow happening around us.
Finally, there is annihilation. It is the natural end result of the Play Cycle, where destruction of the play occurs. It can be as obvious as physically destroying the object the children spent hours or even months building, or it can be subtle, such as switching to a different game or even spontaneously wrestling.
Adventure Playgrounds are safer than traditional playgrounds: This was very eye-opening to me because most of us have the preconceived notion that the playgrounds we see everywhere—the manufactured structures with colorful plastic elements—must be safer than an area with uneven terrain, child-built structures, or loose parts like tools and wood. Right? Wrong. Playworkers employ risk assessments every day before the adventure playground opens to eliminate any obvious dangers (exposed nails, unstable height elements, etc.). With traditional playgrounds, kids may actually have a false sense of security by assuming the playgrounds are safe. This may result in them pushing their limits to unsafe levels and causing more of a hazard to themselves. With Adventure Playgrounds, kids know their limits. They take responsibility for themselves. No one is pushing them. They built many if not all the parts of the play area, so they know it better. It all makes sense, doesn’t it?
Adventure Play New England officially opens on June 29th; come join us to see how impactful a world of free play can be for your children. We’d love to see you!
Additional info: www.popupadventureplay.com