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Let’s talk about play

1 July 2018

I have thought about play a lot over the years. I’ve designed a couple of playgrounds and some external spaces for Special Education Needs schools with a remit for playable structures, but having become a parent in the last few years, I have started to think about play from a new perspective (getting wedged in a slide for toddlers was certainly a different if uncomfortable perspective!).

I now realise how strongly access to play is linked to a parents idea of perceived risk, and I have surprised myself on occasion by being nervous of my daughter exploring things I would have previously, and probably still would, advocate for.

On play projects we have done in the past, we have always put children and young people at the heart of them, and whilst we’ve worked with parents, there was always a pull between what the children wanted and what parents saw as priorities. For example, some parents might want to stick with play equipment they know; swings, slides and a climbing frame, and children often do want some of that, but they also often want a taste of wilderness and wildness; water, long grass, logs and boulders to clamber on, abstract undefined things to build worlds around, wobbly things that they are likely to fall off the first time they try.

I think a big shift comes in realising how much our children absorb and reflect our reaction to places, to play and to risk, and therefore whether or not they have permission to go and explore, play and, most probably, acquire a few bruises. All of this means that, in the future I will be thinking about these dual audiences for play spaces and understanding how symbiotic their relationship is. But I also want to start a bigger conversation about play; what we value in play for our children and what our children value in play. What we think the barriers to good play provision are and who is doing ground-breaking work around play.

make:good has always been about creating moments of joy, and to me, finding those moments in the everyday is something we could really learn from kids. Children can create those moments effortlessly, seeing an ocean or a climbing frame or an adventure in a post-Blitz bombsite or a carefully curated gallery. The idea that play provision is x, or must have y, is something that children show us is nonsense everyday. They push boundaries with their brave, unconstrained, (sometimes over-)excited little brains – the best we can do is give them the spaces to do it.

So here are some of my favourite boundary-pushing play practitioners – I would love to hear about yours, so please point me in the direction of your favourite people doing great stuff in the world of play!

Pop up adventure play

This wonderful movement want to support children’s play in all its forms and have lots of resources online for encouraging people to set up their own temporary adventure play experiences using an array of everyday objects. They also run courses at different levels for people who really want to leap into play advocacy.

Playground Ideas

For the shear joy of making playgrounds out of everything and anything in the most unlikely of places and sharing work that just makes you smile these folk are on my go to list. Always inspires me to get up and go another day.

Playing out CIC

This amazing parent led initiative is all about putting in place regular temporary road closures and giving children the opportunity to play in the streets outside their homes.

Looking forward to hearing about your favourites.