I took my first trip to California this February for Pop Up Adventure Play's first annual Campference at Eureka Villa. It was conference about playwork theory and practice, attended by nearly a hundred people from all over the world. Seventy attendees, me included, camped on the site. It was a camp-ference...get it? Spoiler: it was freezing cold, there was a twenty year storm, the roads flooded, we abandoned the camp site, I had a run in with a mountain lion----and those were the least interesting nuggets of my three days in Val Verde!
What exactly is playwork, you ask? It has a fairly broad definition. The playwork principles according to campference speaker Professor Fraser Brown were:
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's freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated.
The play he describes can't be found on a soccer team, or playing monopoly. Play comes from within, it's not owned, directed or controlled by adults. The role of the "play worker"; the role that pops up in several intersecting fields of study; is to create the conditions or environment that facilitate freely chosen play.
As a designer of built things, I felt like a fish out of water surrounded by outdoor educators, social workers and play activists. I certainly get to play when creating and designing built spaces, but how can I create spaces that facilitate play for others? This is what I had hoped to find out.
Here are some takeaways:
1. Affordance: describes what opportunity(ies) any given object, person or space can lend. For example, a chair has many affordances, you can sit on it, lay it down and it's a pilot's cockpit, use it as a goal posts for soccer etc. The more affordances an object or space has, the more opportunities for play it has.
2. Risk and hazard: risk and hazard are not the same thing. Risk is individually judged and is dependent on the person doing the risking (i.e. can I jump across this puddle without getting wet), a hazard is an unforseen danger like a glass shard concealed in the park sand pit. Risk is cultural. Millions of people risk death each time they get behind the wheel of their car, but it's an accepted one. Parents confuse risk and hazard constantly. "That's dangerous!" is a warning applied equally to climbing a play structure or holding a chainsaw. The benefits of letting kids risk at their own pace are immense.
3. Playwork happens everywhere. In schools, in parks, in homes, at bus stops, you name it. Museums and zoos are getting on board, and providing real physical and emotional space for children. Playwork is not confined to outdoor adventure playgrounds in temperate climates. Take this bus stop prototype designed and built by Philadelphia's Public Workshop for example:
4. The three F's: Ideally, play should be fun, flexible and free (child-led/autonomous) according to Fraser Brown. Playwork is about finding a way to say YES. Facilitating a collaborative design process with families is at the root of Drôle House's mission to bring more function and fun to homes.
If you are interested in learning more about playwork in your own life or work, here are some links of groups and businesses I was introduced to at the campference who doing some inspiring things.
Pop Up Adventure Play: they offer a playworker development course, and facilitate loose play pop ups everywhere.
Recess Revolution: to learn how to bring free play back to school recess.
EarthPlay Canada: giving the right to play back to Canadian kids.
The Land: a documentary film made by Erin Davis. It is a must see for adventure play enthusiasts.
Adventure: The Value of Risk in Children's Play written by Joan Almon.
How do you support play in your life or work?