What is Play?

Welcome to our series of our Parents 4 Play blog posts. The aim of these posts is to give you play and playwork knowledge that can help you to improve play opportunities for your children and why this important. Understanding play and its benefits allows Playworkers to create the possible play environments and opportunities which are fundamental to children’s development and wellbeing.
In our first blog post we look at what we mean when we say ‘play’.

You can also read our other posts in this series:

Picture the scene: two groups of determined children, one group protecting their make-shift base and the other group attacking them. They are running around, dressed up, using tennis rackets as pretend guns, shouting, “take them down”, “you’re under attack!” and making machine gun noises “rt rt rt”. One brave child runs out of the base, a cardboard box, and defiantly stands in front of the attackers to throw a grenade which is actually a pine cone. It sails through the air and lands directly in front of the attackers who are thrown in every direction and roll around on the floor screaming in agony. 

Poppy will spend hours alone in her bedroom playing with her Sylvanian house. She will creep downstairs and take the smallest piece of bread from the kitchen. She asks her Mum “I need some cardboard” and disappears upstairs again, only to creep back down again and ask “where are the scissors Mum?” Hours later, Poppy’s Mum checks to see what she is up to only to find she has created a feast for her guests in the dining room of her playhouse, complete with a full set of plates, cutlery and cups. Outside, a group of children are playing hide and seek on the green. 

“Do you want to do my science experiments Daddy? First, foot wash. Take off your shoes and socks Daddy. Sprinkle. Hose  Hose Hose…..Good, you’re ready. Now, take my bucket and my measuring cup and carefully put the soil mixture in like this, 1,2,3. Now I get the hose. Squirt it in here. Fill it up…. Good. Now, get it in good, give it a stir, mix it here, poke it and now it’s ready! Do you want to try it? Now to get some more for my next experiment…” 


Which of the above is play? 

We believe they all are. Over the years, between us, we’ve worked in many parks, play settings and schools. Sometimes play can test and challenge our perceptions of what we believe it is. Should children be allowed to play with guns and pretend to blow each other up? Is it acceptable for children to spend hours alone in their bedroom not outside making friends? Is it safe to let children play with compost? 

Play is really complex and can allow children opportunities to explore a complete array of emotions and make sense of the world around them.

For example, play can be:
  • happy or sad,
  • construction or destruction,
  • clean or dirty,
  • risky or safe,
  • winning or losing,
  • sharing or choosing not to share,
  • exciting or boring.

Defining what is play, can be really hard. 

As playworkers, we follow the Playwork Principles. Principles 1 and 2 state: 
1.   All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and wellbeing of individuals and communities. 

2.   Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons. 
Things for you to consider:
Think back to your childhood memories of play.

  • Did your play challenge the adults around you?
  • Does children’s play challenge you?
  • What did you do to get parents to understand you wanted to play? 
Observing your child(ren):
  • Is play happening? Playing is a child's building blocks for life, how they learn, even if their behaviour challenges you, are they playing? 
  • How often does your child's behaviour seem positive and happy or challenging and disruptive? Are they testing the world around them/learning about it?
  • How could you use play to adapt the situation to both get what you want?
  • Next month, we’ll continue this discussion by looking at the importance of play. In the meantime, let us know what you think about the questions we raised or share your favourite childhood play memories.  
The importance of play has recently been highlighted under the general comment on article 31 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, all children and young people have the right to play. http://www.playwales.org.uk/eng/generalcomment


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