Riding the wave of play

As mentioned in our last post, I’ve recently finished reading the most wonderful ebook by a lady who has pioneered and led the field of playworkers – a field that I think holds such value.  In her book The Playwork Primer (2010), Penny Wilson shares the delicate tiptoe between facilitating play on the playgrounds of London, and interfering in the developmental process that is the child’s work.

Today I would like to share her explanation of the critical balance in the child’s play process.  Many occupational therapists need to understand and use this concept for the beautiful art of therapy to be successful.

Below is an excerpt from the book.

Complexity theory is a way of understanding natural systems.  We look at a flock of birds or a school of fish moving in magnificent order and symmetry and wonder how they can do it.  Both are examples of complex adaptive systems.  In these natural systems, order is not the result of a pre-established plan that maps out, say, the flock’s flight path.  Instead, the overall order, the graceful flocking, emerges from a few very simple rules about finding direction, keeping a certain distance from other birds, and so on, that govern individual birds’ flying behaviours.

The theories of complexity provide some interesting metaphors for understanding playwork.  Arthur Battram describes an ideal state for a play setting by likening it to a wave.  Before the wave breaks, there is stasis, order.  After the wave breaks, there is turbulence and chaos.  At the curl of the breaking wave there is a delicate balance between order and chaos.

If we relate this to a play setting then the static, ordered state is a very controlled setting.  It is rule-bound, highly organised, and prescriptive; timed activities will take place.  There is no room in this play setting for the creative spontaneity of playing children.  If we look at a chaotic play setting, it is poorly organised.  The hours when it is open are irregular.  The toilets might not work.  The staff might display a wide variety of moods and temperaments, with unpredictable attitudes towards the children and their playing.

Look at the curl of the wave, which is where we surf because that is where the power is.  We see the meeting of order with spontaneous activity and unpredictability.  Thus, an underlying order can support freedom and unpredictable play.  It is a framework for creativity.  Battram offers us the image of surfing on the edge of chaos and order as a metaphor for how a play setting works.  It is our role as adults to understand this and create the solid foundations on which the children play.

Isn’t that just beautiful?

I must admit that I am person who likes order and it is hard for me as parent and homemaker to be playmaker too, to stand back and watch the beautiful chaos unfold.

What are your experiences of beautiful chaos?  Aren’t they some of your best memories?

A bunch of toddlers and a blank slate

So yesterday was a new experience and a big risk. We took some toddlers, a new photographer and an open forest with a bunch of our toys to see whether we could get some great shots of the kids having fun.  The kids knew each other but didn’t see each other often.  None of them were models save for posing for their moms’ IG accounts.  They weren’t familiar with the toys.  And guess what? We got some great shots.  Why?

There was no agenda.  The kids were presented with open-ended toys.  The photographer needed some explanation as to what could be done with them, but the kids didn’t.  Kids have the most fun when they are able to use their imaginations, and when toys have more than one purpose.

I saw a quote recently that said “Ask: Is this toy 90 percent child and 10 percent toy, or 90 percent toy and 10 percent child? If there’s only one thing to do with it, then the toy is controlling everything. This one’s more open-ended, so he gets to make his own world.” – Dr. Roberta Golinkoff, professor of psychology at University of Delaware and co-author of the New York Times best seller speaking about Bilibo from Moluk.

There is a school of thought related to play called the Theory of Loose Parts.  If you know me personally you will have heard me talk about it many times.  When children are left in an open space, with random unfamiliar objects lying around, they will start to imagine, create and play – creating their own toys and play space in a unique way that allows for much more brain development than the fanciest toys we can provide.  You see, play is innate.  Children were designed for play.  We as adults interfere way too much and way too often, stifling the creativity that is waiting to emerge.

Anything can be used as loose parts: old tyres, wooden offcuts, buttons, household items.  When children are given the freedom to explore we will be astounded not only by their creativity but also their ability to handle what we might see as dangerous objects.  Scandinavian playgrounds would shock many helicopter parents with their liberal use of loose parts and their faith in children’s abilities.  Yes accidents do happen, but they happen anywhere.  We need to intervene less and watch more.  And if you want to treat your children to new toys, look for ones with infinite opportunity to be used in creating their own play scenarios.

Happy playing!  And we’ll share some of the pics soon 🙂