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?

Play-makers: the subtle art of not interfering

I’ve just 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.

Children need to organise and direct their own play, but the reality is that few of today’s children are allowed to play freely, as earlier generations were.  Some don’t know how to get started.  Others need some adult support.  Playworkers fill this space.  They:

  • create playful environments
  • support children’s own play
  • assess risk, and
  • help out when needed, without directing or controlling.

Above all, playworkers strive to be as invisible as possible.

The following is an excerpt from the book.

In 1946 a a quirk of fate led Lady Allen of Hurtwood to visit a junk playground in Copenhagen-Emdrup, designed by the architect C. Th. Sorenson in 1943.  He was commissioned by the authorities to create a place for children to play in response to increased levels of child delinquency during the German occupation.  So Sorenson went back to look at other playgrounds that he had designed.  He found them empty.  Where were the children?  They were playing in the wreckage of bombed-out buildings.  So this is what he created: A place with materials that children could manipulate, where they could spend hours rooting around unnoticed and lost in their own worlds.

Lady Allen said of her first visit to this playground, “I was completely swept off my feet by my first visit to the Emdrup playground.  In a flash of understanding I realised that I was looking at something quite new and full of possibilities.”  She brought the concept back to London and gave it the name “adventure playground”.

At that time London children had little space to play except for bomb sites left after the Second World War.  Here they spent their time building, making fires, digging for treasure from the dead homes, and generally scrubbing around on their own.  Lady Allen had had a very playful rural childhood.  She thought that her own experiences had been ideal and recognized in the sites she created with local communities a “compensatory environment”.  By this she meant they were the nearest thing to her rural childhood that could be created for urban children.

Over the next few posts I’d like to explore more of the ideas shared in this book.  But for now, what is the closest thing we have to an adventure playground here in our cities?  We’d love to hear from you.

A reminder for all of us as to what really matters

A while back a friend’s FB status went something along the lines of “Ah open-ended toys. So beautiful. So multifarious. So very expensive.”

This made me sad.  While I was able to share some ideas with her about “loose parts play“, I had to admit that the most beautiful open-ended toys are generally quite expensive.  I’ve been following the most beautiful Grimms’ toys on my IG feed and have terrible #toyenvy when I see the elaborate creations, marble runs, Noah’s arks, car garages and obstacle courses built with these positively beautiful, masterfully crafted wooden shapes in rainbow colours.  I would love to support them through our business and for our family,but buying a set of imported wooden “blocks” for R5-7K just seems totally crazy!

So what is the rationale behind acquiring expensive toys for our children?  Aren’t our homes cluttered enough?

1.  Make space for beautiful and durable toys

I recently saw a post on IG by a mom who has totally bought into the concept of wooden toys, and open-ended play.  Before Christmas she cleared out their toy room of anything plastic other than Lego.  She created an absolutely beautiful space, with wooden blocks, a play kitchen and various other toys which allow for creativity without giving the child too many ideas as to how each toy “should” be played with.  The idea of open-ended play is that the possibilities are infinite.  The child develop their play ideas according to their level of what occupational therapists like to call “Creative Ability”.  Creative Ability is a very proudly South African concept as one of the pioneers in the field developed the theory of understanding what an individual is capable of doing at each stage of development.  Just give the same blocks to a 1-, 2- and 4-year old and watch in amazement as they play.

2. Support green manufacturing processes

Open-ended toys should definitely last throughout childhood, and when not compromising on quality the manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure durability as well as adhere to international safety standards.  The amount of energy that goes into production of a toy should be proportional to the use that the child will get out of it, thereby reducing waste and at the same time using our planet’s resources responsibly.  Did you know that Moluk’s toys, although plastic, are considered green?

Moluk has been featured at Design Week Milan and were part of Play It Green, an exhibition by afilii about sustainable toys during Kind & Jugend Fair in Cologne.  Sustainability has always been an essential concern when they develop toys. They use recyclable plastics and avoid any painted parts or composite materials. No PVC, no phthalates, no BPA. The resources and energy it takes to produce a toy always stand in relation to the play value and years of use you get out of it. Moluk toys have a stellar track record in this regard and a minimal ecological footprint

3.  Think SIMPLE or rather don’t think at all

Despite my background I made some rookie mistakes this weekend when planning a space adventure party for my kids.  Essentially still toddlers and two years apart in age, I had many crafty activities planned which required too much adult assistance, too many steps to follow, too much dexterity and too much structure.  At one point I found myself a little exasperated amongst the chaotic squeals of kids around me.  But everyone was having a great time.  I realised afresh that kids just crave freedom to be kids, to explore  some new materials and create at their own pace, and to have the safety of a familiar adult nearby but one who does not interfere.

4.  You don’t need big bucks for your kids to have big ideas

On Sunday, when all the friends had gone home and we were left with play materials that needed to be packed away, they were much more ready to be creative in the space that had been created.  And this space did not require fancy toys or a large budget.  They just needed time, a place where they could explore at their own pace, and the freedom to do it.

5.  Clear out those junky bits and pieces

Whose joining me in clearing out for a fresh start to 2019, #mariekondomeetsstraightzigzag style?