I’ve been thinking about play and playwork today, and playing around with thinking about what happens in the gaps between one bit of play and the next, and what, as playworkers, our role covers. I think we’re all pretty good at identifying play. When it’s happening we can all go ‘oh yeah they’re playing’. So, when a play frame is annihilated, does a period of ‘non-play’ take place before the next frame develops? When hunger kicks in or the child with ‘anger issues’ kicks off, is this still play as we know it?
Geographer Doreen Massey talks about how one widespread view in the minority world (e.g. Western, neoliberal countries) conceives space as a surface, with stuff on this surface and therefore separate from other stuff. I wonder if as playworkers we see play as discrete stuff sitting on a surface, separated by not-play from other play stuff. Comments on a postcard please.
Massey also draws on Deleuze and Boundas and talks about how we often value stuff which is identifiable as discrete rather than stuff that is more elusive, or in motion and harder to pin down. This might include valuing the outcome rather than the process, or ‘results at the expense of tendencies’ (Massey, 2005), although her meaning is broader than just this.
I’m wondering if as playworkers this distance/space/time between what we identify as play and not-play is conceptually problematic. Or perhaps not. Since the playworker’s role is facilitating play, are we only ‘doing playwork’ when children actually play, or rather, doing what we identify as play? What about when a child wants to talk about how they’re being bullied at school? Does talking to them change you from a playworker into something else?
I’ve heard Meynell says ‘the role of a playworker is to do whatever they need to to make the play happen’, and I think this is really useful. This to me acknowledges talking to a child about their bullying, or coaching and making space/time for a ten-year old to swing an axe to chop wood for the fire is equally important as participating in a game of manhunt or sourcing materials for dens. It says to me that all stuff – for playworkers – is connected – not just sitting on a surface waiting for us to identify it as play or not-play. It also suggests that we would do well to value (as well as continually challenge and reflect on) all of the processes and tendencies we contribute to the messy space/time assemblage that makes up what it is we do.
Massey, D. B. (2005). For space. London: SAGE.