Thinking about Play Types. PATH newsletter spring 2010


I noticed in my copy of Ip dip this month that Bob Hughes is bemoaning the fact that the Playtypes have been turned into a simplistic tick list. Much along the lines of the five a day fruit and veg initiative, it would seem that people think that by working through ‘the list’ they can ensure a healthy balanced play diet.
This is just another way of seizing adult control of children ‘s playing. This was never supposed to be a check list exercise. This piece of works, the play types was supposed to be an investigation into the inner mechanics of play. it is a diagnostic tool for adults to use so that we can better understand the playing of children.
For me the sheer joy of the Taxonomy of Play in which Bob Hughes first describes the Play types he has identified from literature, is the wonder of his being able to observe so astutely and pick apart the different strands of playing. He did not do the because he wanted to sort all of one type into a box and label it, but he wanted to understand better the craft of the Playworker. Remember our Playwork Principles tell us that we do not adulterate the playing of the children? It is our job to think with care and wisdom about the play spaces that we have to create for our kids. As most kids who need the support of Playworkers are having to play in artificial environments, Adventure Playgrounds, after schools clubs, parks, schools etc Playworkers need to have a thorough background knowledge about what comprises a rich play space. That ideal play space would be a natural one and an unsupervised one and it would be possible to experience something of each of the playtypes within that space. We use this insight when we come to creating our manufactured playspaces. So we now understand that we need to build in not only height so that there can be danger, but an environment that fosters fantasy play so that there can be dragons as well. In this space it is understood without scorn that a baby doll is as important as a hammer and that either a boy or a girl might have a burning need to play with either.
You know when you stand up really close to a massive poster on a billboard or something- the picture all separates out into individual dots of pure colour, sometimes packed close together sometimes spaces very far apart. When you see the poster like this, you can understand how the image is made up, but you cannot understand the whole image. When you take a step or two back and take a good look, then you get a clear understanding of the whole picture.
I guess my understanding of the playtypes is like that. I can watch and try to make sure that all 16 are possible or happening on the playground. I look minutely and listen and look for the archeology of the playing and loose parts that will give me the clues I need to do this diagnostic work. Then I take a step back and see a glorious riot of playfulness changing and melding and interweaving and making up a glorious unconfined creative display.
In one of the pathfinder sites that is being creative we felt it was important for the children to have some fantasy back in their worlds, that they needed to see themselves reflected together in their play in a small natural space, that they needed some quirkiness and beauty.
We put a large mirrored sphere into the space.
This was a piece of design informed by the playtypes.

Penny Wilson

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