Good Practice in Playwork

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For a couple of years now it has bothered me that I don’t have much time to keep my playwork skills up to date. I attend lots of conferences and meetings, read articles and books, and talk with lots of playworkers and their employers in the course of my work, so my knowledge and understanding is reasonably up to date, but I rarely have contact with children. Then, this summer, I was fortunate to be invited to brush up my playwork practice with a team going to Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts. They were to offer play opportunities on the Kidz Field which, according to Tony the organiser of this corner of the Glastonbury site, is the largest children’s festival in Europe. As a festival-goer over many years I had visited the Kidz Field a lot with my own son and friends’ children, but was really excited at the thought of working there, but also a little nervous. Would I cut the mustard for my new employer? Could I meet the physical challenges of playwork all day and dancing at night, particularly if it became very muddy? Would the rest of the team accept me?

I went into training: more swimming sessions each week, more stretches, more reading, and arrived at Worthy Farm at the end of June carrying my backpack in glorious sunshine, confident in a weather forecast that predicted blue skies and heat.

I could go into detail about the play offer we provided, how I learnt to mend an inflatable, and coil an electric cable properly, how to use a microphone to encourage playful behaviour. But these are basic skills which are easy to pick up if someone will spend the time demonstrating them for you.

One of the most valuable lessons I learnt concerned the process my employer had established to encourage reflective practice. This improved our offer for children and brought us closer together as a team. Each day, after we’d packed the equipment away, we got together for a debrief. This involved everyone in turn having an opportunity to say what they thought had gone well and what could be improved. We discussed the equipment, what needed mending or ditching, and what type of play behaviours it encouraged. We discussed the gender balance we had witnessed that day and how our offer could be improved to ensure access to play for all. And we discussed our own behaviours and practice. Did standing with your hands on your hips give the wrong message to potential play participants? And so, what do you do with your hands while you watch children play? Did a playworker wearing sunglasses intimidate children, as they couldn’t see your eyes? What are your strengths and which aspects of the offer are daunting for you? We spent between an hour and ninety minutes at the end of each day considering our practice and agreeing our plan for the next morning. And during those meetings, we challenged and praised, encouraged and ticked off, in a very open, honest and supportive atmosphere, which brought us together to become a small community, turning a group of disparate people living in a field for a long weekend into an effective and enthusiastic play team. Now, I think that is good practice.

Lesli Godfrey  September 2013

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