The Play Cycle 20 Years On

 In 1998, Gordon Sturrock and the late Perry Else presented a paper at the IPA International Play Conference in Colorado, Canada.  The paper was titled ‘The playground as therapeutic space: playwork as healing’, later referred to as ‘The Colorado Paper’ and introduced the Play Cycle to playwork theory.

In the last twenty years, elements of the Play Cycle (such as ‘play cues’, ‘play return’, ‘play frame’ and ‘annihilation’’) have entered into common use within the playwork sector, and appear in training and education , text books  and underpins professional playwork practice.   The aim of this exploratory study is to investigate understandings and applications of the Play Cycle within the playwork field over the last 20 years.

This study is open to anybody who is currently involved in playwork but must be aged 18 years or over. The research will be undertaken by Dr Pete King from Swansea University and Shelly Newstead (UCL IOE). For more details about the study, please contact Pete at p.f.king@swansea.ac.uk or 01792 602 314.

To take part in this study please click here

The questionnaire can be completed online using a computer, tablet or phone. The study is open from Wednesday 20th September to Friday 1st December 2017.

Thanks,

Dr Pete King.

 

 

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Withdrawing qualifications is another blow to playwork

Play England has reported that CACHE (Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education) has closed its Level 2 Award and Certificate, Level 3 Award and Level 4 Award and Certificate qualifications to new registrations. The other main awarding organisation, City and Guilds are also now only open for registrations of full Diplomas at levels 2, 3, and 5, although they are still offering the Level 4 Award. All of these qualifications, for both awarding organisations, are only available for registration until November 2017.

According to Play England, these qualifications, vital to the growth of a professional playwork sector for two decades, no longer fit within the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) that replaced the former Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) under the Coalition Government.

Under the RQF, the ‘stepping stone’ awards and certificates, which could previously lead incrementally to full diplomas via the credit system, is being phased out. Thus, when existing qualifications come up for renewal, unless they are suitable for conversion to the new framework they are being withdraw, in spite of many playworkers and their employers preferring the modular approach.

Prospects

But the prospects of playwork in England adapting to this new context are affected by a funding squeeze. With registrations for playwork qualifications declining because of a dearth of available finance, awarding organisations are finding it harder to make the business case for the development of new ones. At a roundtable meeting at the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne last week, co-hosted by Play England and the Playwork Foundation, it was agreed to lobby CACHE and City and Guilds, to extend registration of the level 2, 3 and 5 qualifications beyond the end of the current year. The two organisations have written to the awarding bodies and are encouraging playwork trainers and employers to do the same.

Nicola Butler, chair of Play England, says: ‘Playwork is a highly skilled job. Parents, playworkers and employers all want the playwork profession to have the training that is needed for the job, but while most playwork employers would like to be able to invest more in professional development of their workforce but are prevented from doing so by the lack of public funding’.

So what are the reasons for this decline in the playwork sector after so many years of growth? One factor is the partial de-regulation of the school-age play and childcare sector. Since September 2014, there has been no statutory requirement for out-of-school clubs and holiday play-schemes to employ staff with ‘full and relevant’ childcare or playwork qualifications. (Over-8s and open-access providers have never been required to register).

Cuts

At least as significant as the change in regulatory requirements has been the effect of cuts to local authority play services, which in many places have been withdrawn altogether.  A 2014 report showed that capital and revenue spending on children’s play by England’s local authorities from 2010-13 fell by 50% and 61% respectively and it is clear that deep cuts have continued.

Many believe that playwork is now in something of an existential crisis, certainly in England. 10 years ago, the first phase of a 10-year national play strategy included funding to qualify 4,000 playworkers and a new graduate level qualification for playwork managers. Since then, the government has, according to the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, ‘undermined’ children’s right to play by abandoning the play strategy and not having a minister with responsibility for play policy for the first time since the 1980s; a situation that remains, in spite of the calls for a wide ranging national play policy by an All Party Parliamentary Group on children’s health in 2015.

What does all this mean for children? Most obviously, vital play services such as staffed adventure playgrounds (where playwork originated) are being closed. In some places these are being replaced with fixed equipment play areas, as in Watford; in others, such as Battersea Park, children can now indulge in ‘tree-top adventures’ for between £20 – £38 a session, where they used to play for free on structures that they had helped to build. Wendy Russell of the University of Gloucestershire estimates there only 150 traditional adventure playgrounds remaining in Britain, compared to around 500 at their peak; and with the erosion of playwork training and the on-gong pressures on funding, she has called those that remain an ‘endangered species’.

Extended schools

Less apparently, but perhaps even more significantly (certainly for larger numbers of children) the removal of a requirement for qualified staff means that children attending after-school and holiday play services – not voluntarily, let’s remember, but because their parents need to work – are now much more likely to be supervised either by classroom assistants or staff with no training at all; often on school premises.

When Labour introduced the concept of ‘wrap-around’ services as a key development of its ‘childcare revolution’, it was quick to distance itself from the term ‘extended schools’; but what the abandonment of playwork practice as the benchmark for quality in out-of-school provision means for many children, is that they are now effectively in school for up to 10 hours a day.


 A New Playwork Apprenticeship

The one area of potential growth for the playwork training sector is apprenticeships. The government is introducing an Apprenticeship Levy, although most small centres are not eligible for this funding unless subcontracted by larger providers. On this point, the Playwork Foundation is concerned that a high proportion of the few larger centres offering playwork apprenticeships employ trainers and assessors who are ‘not occupationally competent’.

A group of playwork employers has submitted an expression of interest to develop a new Playwork Trailblazer apprenticeship, which aims to: enable employers to access playwork apprenticeships; clarify what they should cover; develop the skills needed for quality playwork provision; and reinforce that they need to be delivered by trainers and assessors fully competent in playwork.

Adrian Voce

An edited version of this article was published in Children and Young People Now on 14 March 2017

This article is about playwork qualifications in England. For an overview of the situation in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales read this

Sharing memories of ‘endangered’ adventure playgrounds

The University of Gloucestershire has launched the report, and a short film, of its Sharing Memories of Adventure Playgrounds (SMAP) research project. The project worked with adventure playgrounds in the cities of Bristol and Gloucester to gather memories of those involved – as children, staff, families and communities – over their history, in order to explore their value; but the project also shines a spotlight on the decline in the number of UK adventure playgrounds, and their ongoing insecurity.

Adventure playgrounds are a specific form of play provision generally catering for children aged 5-15 years of age, with local variations. Their received history tells how they were first introduced into the UK in the late 1940s by Lady Allen of Hurtwood after her visit to the junk playground in Emdrup, Copenhagen. These facilities sprung up in urban spaces left by wartime bombs, using waste materials, tools and the permissive supervision of a playworker to create spaces where children could build play structures, make dens, use tools, have fires and generally engage in outdoor play. Largely developed and run by voluntary organisations, such seemingly anarchic and chaotic spaces were welcomed by the authorities as an effective response to the rise in delinquency amongst working-class boys.

Over the last 70 or so years, these playgrounds have had a chequered history. At times adventure playgrounds have been well funded because of their perceived social and economic benefits (instrumental value), at others less so. Alongside this, the ethos and practices of adventure playgrounds in the UK have both affected and been affected by the zeitgeist, theory and social policy paradigms. From an estimated 500 in operation across the UK in the 1970s, their decline to less than 150 today (many of which no longer operate wholeheartedly according to the original principles) has been attributed to a number of socio-legal changes, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1975, the Children Act 1989, the introduction of out of school childcare and now unprecedented public expenditure cuts.

‘Critical cartography’

This trans-disciplinary project held events at each of the playgrounds and recorded these using video, audio and the work of artists. It was funded by both the Being Human and Sport, Exercise, Health and Wellbeing Research Priority Areas at the University of Gloucestershire. It drew on concepts from post-qualitative research methodologies, memory studies, geography, philosophy and policy. It aimed to develop a ‘critical cartography’ as a different way of articulating the value of adventure playgrounds that can be used to inform future policy.

There is plenty of evidence showing the benefits of play for children, but less showing the benefits of play provision. What does exist tends to show the instrumental value of adventure playgrounds and playwork in terms of its capacity to address social policy concerns such as reducing physical inactivity and obesity, crime reduction, or community cohesion. These are important, and at the same time the desire to show measurable benefits in this way obscures other ways of expressing value. The creative methods we used looked to show how much these spaces mattered to those involved.

“Adventure playgrounds are an endangered species”

Dr. Wendy Russell

At the launch of the SMAP project, with an exhibition at the University’s Oxstalls campus on 27 January, the Mayor of Gloucester, Councillor Neil Hampson highlighted the huge value of the city’s adventure playgrounds to successive generations of local communities and decried the austerity policies that was placing them at risk. Dr. Wendy Russell, for the research team, said they were an ‘endangered species’, which needed to be documented while they were still in existence.

Adrian Voce

Illustration: Mick Conway (from original artwork produced for the project)
Photo: Bristol Daily News

As well as the exhibition, the project has produced a film, which can be viewed here and a short report, available here. If you would like to host the exhibition, please contact the research team at smap@glos.ac.uk.

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Playwork ‘Campference’ announced in California for Feb. 2017

(Reblogged from Pop-Up Adventure Play)

The UK based Pop-up Adventure Play is teaming up with Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play to host a first time Playwork Campference in Val Verde, CA 16-19 February 2017.

The Campference will headline Professor Fraser Brown, Head of Playwork at Leeds Beckett University’s School of Health & Community Studies, Erin Davis, Director of the documentary “The Land”, and Jill Wood, founder of “AP” adventure playground in Houston, TX.  Campference programming will also include a variety of hands on workshops, keynote Q&As, a screening of “The Land”, discussions and activities surrounding playwork theory and practice with National and International playworkers, and more. Early bird registration ends 2 October 2016, overall registration ends 16 October 2017. Participants also have the option to camp on site at the Eureka Villa Adventure Playground slated to be the seventh in the US.

Playwork involves in depth knowledge of play psychology, play “cues”, and risk benefit assessment. Playworkers traditionally work on Adventure Playgrounds where they make sure the children stay safe but do not inhibit the play in any way. However, playwork concepts may be applied to a variety of instances whether working with kids or adults in formal (i.e. educational or structured) or informal private, public or domestic settings. Adventure Playgrounds have been commonplace throughout Europe since World War II and are seeing a resurgence in the US.

The new wave of adventure play has been covered by various news sources including the New York Times, Atlas Obscura and The Atlantic.   The playwork campference will facilitate an international conversation between diverse individuals ranging from decades and degrees in playwork to those brand new to it.  “I’m very excited about coming and meeting all the people who will be at the Campference. … It’s going to be an opportunity to do stimulating work to get the whole idea of playwork going.. to give it a base level to work out from” said Professor Brown.  Regarding the state of play in America, he believes, “it’s very timely right now… things are beginning to develop. Right now I have three American based students doing post-graduate work with us.” Professor Brown has written numerous books on the benefits of playwork including his experiences doing therapeutic playwork with children in orphanages in Romania and Transylvania.

Erica Larsen-Dockray, co-founder of Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play remarks about the Campference, “We could not be more delighted to host such a unique and necessary event here in Southern California.  Playwork concepts reaffirm two very important elements which I feel are lacking in the US.  One is kids being allowed more self-directed time in their days and second is adults supporting and trusting kids to take risks and practice independence.  Culturally we have forgotten how to let kids just play on their own terms as well as embrace play in our adult lives.”

Suzanna Law, Co-Founder of Pop-up Adventure Play and current Leeds Playwork Phd candidate says, “This is something of momentous occasion for me because we have been working so hard at Pop-up Adventure play to bring playwork ideas to people across the US and hopefully better play opportunities for children as a consequence. A child has a right to play, but in order to play they also need to feel safe and in an environment where they are supported.  They have a right to believe and to direct everything that is in their own lives and in the US this may be taken for granted and we need to know now in order to support play we need to support the whole child.”

Pop-up Adventure play was founded in 2010 by Suzanna Law and Morgan Leichter-Saxby and aims to help make a children’s right to play a reality in every neighborhood by disseminating playwork principles to a range of audiences.  Operating primarily in the US and UK, they provide long-distance and in-person support to play advocates in seventeen countries and recently completed a world lecture tour.

Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play was founded by Jeremiah Dockray and Erica Larsen-Dockray in 2014 after Jeremiah began the playwork course.  While working on a course assignment he came across an abandoned 2 acre park which is now the developing home of Eureka Villa Adventure Playground.  It will be the only adventure playground in Los Angeles County.

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Aside from the park’s development, they have held numerous pop-up adventure playgrounds all over Los Angeles County for private and public events.  For more information on them please visit www.scvadventureplay.com

Anyone interested in attending or registering can visit the Campference information page at:  https://popupadventureplaygrounds.wordpress.com/playwork-campference-2017/

Early bird registration ending on 10/2/2016 is $375 for campers and $300 for non-campers.  Regular registration ending on 1/16/2017 is $475 for campers and $400 for non-campers.  Camping rates include meals, snacks, and basic camping equipment if needed.  Financial aid may be available on a first come basis.

CONTACT:

Morgan Leichter-Saxby, Co-Founder Pop-Up Adventure Play

Jeremiah Dockray, Co-Owner Santa Clarita Valley Adventure Play info@scvadventureplay.com

Check out the whole press release here.