1,100 words about the importance of advocating for children and their playing by way of a hard lesson learnt.
"The children at this school told me about ‘The Swinging Tree’. It was right at the back of the school field and was called this because there was one branch in particular that was at just the right angle and height to produce a great place to swing."
670 words on the history of one particular form of skipping game, a radio show, and the contibution of a littleold lady.
"Interview done, I sat back sipping my cup of BBC coffee and listened to the calls coming in. One of them took me and the programme staff aback a little."
An 800 word short on the importance of bikes for children's independent mobility and a bit of chopper envy.
"I kept saying to him, ‘Don’t let go, don’t let go!’ and he replied repeatedly, I won’t!’ with me never realising at the key moment that his replies were getting fainter and fainter."
A short on pots and pans, secruity measures, and how keeping secrets from children is virtually impossible.
"Then, one day I turned up at the school and, as per usual, headed for the staff room but when I got there I couldn’t get in. Between visits a new push button security lock had been added to the staff room door and, of course, I didn’t know the code."
A short on an online conversation, confusion over what is and is not 'play-based learning' and the pressures facing educators.
"When educators, in the early years especially, say that they are not getting the results they expect from a play-based approach the most common reason is that they are not actually applying a play-based approach."
A biographical short on rules, who they apply to and who they do not.
"I had to deliver the initial results of my interviews to a whole staff after school hours meeting and at the opening of the presentation I laid out a number of rules for the next hour that I was applying ‘for safety reasons’."
A biographical short on why sometimes the best intentions can hinder rather than help.
"His support staff had noticed this was making it difficult for him to get around independently in his old unpowered chair. So, to help him his school decided to put some of his support money towards buying him an electric wheelchair."
A biographical short on running away from home
"I remember walking down the long never-ending street that granny lived on being not upset but very angry. Then, my dad suddenly appeared alongside driving our old ex-army Moggie 1000 very slowly, his head sticking out the open window."
A biographical short on the difference between one of my schools and another.
"School was ok too - I settled in quite quickly, made some good friends and generally I have good memories of my time there. There was one aspect of this new school that I really struggled with, though."
1,000 words about where loose parts should best be left to get the most from them. It's largely about the word serendipity and a dead German biologist. The second of a two-part blog.
a \‘shȯrt-rēd’\ piece
"Whether we acknowledge it or not, when we adults gather specific materials together and place them in a context that we have pre-decided, like the tabletop, then we have both reduced the variety and the possible combinations available."
900 words on what happens when a five year old spots an aging playworker while trying to balance along a low wall, with a bit of a more than 100-year-old theory thrown in to boot.
"It is at this point that she noticed me walking towards the pair with shopping bag in hand and we briefly made eye contact – and something happened. Question is, what?"
900 words about what happens when you ask a playwork consutant to make recomendations on movoing a local community playground because of noise complaints. It doesnt as expected.
"It seems to be a truism that when children and young people come into conflict with adults in their local communities it is the adults who invariably win."
900 words about the confusion some find over using loose parts and how that relates to 'open-endedness'. The first of a two-part blog.
"By definition an object, whether a loose part or not, cannot be ‘open-ended’."
850 words about conflict between child-space and adult-space in local communities.
"It seems to be a truism that when children and young people come into conflict with adults in their local communities it is the adults who invariably win. This is especially true with the allocation of space as can be seen from the vast number of complaints made by adult residents against local playgrounds every year."
850 words about a memorable, exciting moment in a darkend room with a loose parts element.
"This may sound silly, but my hands were shaking a little as I opened the envelope and a waft of a familiar smell leapt out ..."
900 words about what we, the adult in a playspace, should be doing while there are children playing all around us. Vygotsky gets a mention as does a playwork pioneer.
"We have had many positive developments in an early learning and forest school context in how adults see their role in recent decades. What was the ‘teacher’ has, in many respects become the ‘educator’, for example, and that has clearly been a considered move; and yet ‘educator’ still implies ‘educate’."
900 words about the deep suspicion there appears to be for 'play' in the American kindergarten classroom.
"Restricting particular types of play, or learning, into a predesignated ‘corner’, ‘area’ or ‘station’ is like putting a wild animal in a cage and thinking that’s helpful. It’s not."
900 words about Simon Nicholson's 'Theory of Loose Parts' that asks if we are missing something in our interpretation of his ideas.
"Pretty collections of beads and shells, plastic shapes and buttons, stored neatly in nice wicker baskets or storage tubs, etc. do indeed constitute loose parts, there is a slight problem here. Becoming fixated with seeing ‘loose parts’ as just these small aesthetically pleasing things at the expense of others that might be less attractive to the adult eye really misses the major idea behind Nicholson’s original theory."
500 words about abnoxious teenagers and how we all went through a phase of being rude, destructive and apparently unthinking. And yet, we all did it ... didnt we.
"It was dark at the time as we climbed commando style over the fence and I confess I don't remember feeling concerned about this. Curiosity had got the better of us."
500 words about how the wear and tear marks left behind on physical features by years of use provide subtle clues to the actions of people long after they have left.
"This week, during an aside from the regular monotony of motels and cafes which makes up the uninteresting side of being on the road touring, brought up an unexpected example of forensic Playwork - the act of reading and interpreting the physical signs that playing leaves behind."
a \'shȯrt-rēd'\ piece
500 words about childhood family rituals and oddities and the importance they place in making us 'family'.
What family rituals can you remember? What little oddities do you still have in your family?
500 words about the differences and similarities that can be found in thirty-years worth of photographs of children at play.
Do you have photos of you playing as a child? Can you see any differences/consistencies?
500 words about the importance in having an eclectic collection of books for the serious researcher on play and playing.
How eclectic are you bookshelves? Where have your unexpected influences come from?
1,000 words on describing a chance encounter that resulted in a genuine, deep-down, fighting for breath belly-laugh.
What uncontrived moments have you shared with children and young people? Where were they? What were the circumstances?
It is a habit of mine to ask for a reference or citation when matters of fact are quoted with no source simply because a research based approach to working with children and young people should be the norm in developing good practice – emotive anecdotal comments should be the exception. This is especially true in the field of play and playing as it can sometimes become an emotive topic and a good research paper, even when it produces a counterintuitive conclusion, can slice through the bias of an emotional response better than a hot knife through an organically produced, seed-oil based butter substitute.
Unfortunately, this recent paper ‘Individual and environmental correlates of school-based recess engagement’ published in the journal, Preventative Medicine Reports just isn’t (vol 11 Sept. 2018 p247-253).
The paper begins well enough by acknowledging that recess periods in the school day have been in decline in school districts throughout the USA and concludes that this is not a good thing. It goes on to say that this is not a good thing because, “The school day … is a prime opportunity to promote PA [physical activity].”
And that’s where we hit the first problem.
This paper is a classic of the physiological type of research that is concerned exclusively with the health benefits of children being physical activity to the exclusion of all else. The introduction sets its overall aim out very clearly when it says, “Physical activity is important to help curb high obesity rates amongst today’s children.”
Methodologically it’s a very tight paper and no doubt well intentioned. The research involved more than 8,000 children in seven schools in which one part of the study held observations of ‘recess activity engagement’ while in another data from the wearing of a Fitbit activity monitor were taken and the two sets of data then combined and analysed. The tabulated results are clearly laid out and easy to read.
It is the conclusions that the paper reaches that are worrisome, though: It concludes that girls tend to be less physically active during recess periods than boys – and that’s no surprise as most similar research has drawn the same conclusion. Yet it is how this is stated that starts the alarm bells ringing as its says that more than a quarter of children (particularly girls) were observed in “sedentary activities (e.g. talking with friends).” The bias here is beginning to peek out.
The paper also quotes previous research on the topic stating that it found, “… adding more playground equipment and providing a structured recess yielded the largest effect on [physical activity].” This paper seems to agree with that. In fact, the reference to ‘sedentary activities’ above shows very clearly that the researchers are seeing the potential benefits of playing purely in the context of increased physical activity – sitting play bad, running around play good – and the major conclusion it reaches is that the involvement of adult-initiated and structured activity is essential to getting the desired increase in physical activity:
“… in the current study, adult engagement and supervision was identified as the most salient recess level predictor of engagement for boys and girls. Thus, in considering how to take advantage of limited [recess] time for PA … adults can be more than passive observers assigned to monitor recess, but can also be active participants, and even beneficial role models, for children on and around the playground.”
It’s almost as if the research has been funded by an organisation with a vested interest in adult-led playground intervention projects, isn’t it?
Yet at one point, the paper makes an almost throw away comment that might lead to an alternative conclusion. It notes that recess in the study schools accounted for approximately 5.6% of the school day and then, shock horror, finds that, “Interestingly, recess length was a significant predictor of both MVPA [moderate-to-vigorous physical activity], and steps per minute taken during recess. This finding suggests that extra recess time not only increases opportunities for physical activity, but that children are more active with the time they have when this is increased.”
So, to increase physical activity simply increase the length of recess time, right?
One of the real problems behind this paper is that it has a clear bias in its approach paradigm that seriously narrows any possible conclusion. At one point the authors claim, “To date, no study has concurrently examined the contextual features of the environment and what students chose to do during recess in a systematic way.”
Oh, really? I could lead them to a decent sized metaphorical warehouse full of research relating to school recess periods that has done just that; but they have done so from alternative paradigm to that of the authors who appear to have no previous knowledge of other approaches – all except one of the extensive references cited are from a physiological perspective.
Much of this non-physiological research quotes the benefits of recess that goes beyond the purely physical (see just about anything by Peter Blatchford and Anthony Pellegrini, for example) and not the least amongst those benefits is the value of unstructured time away from adult imposed activity rather than arguing for more.
So, when is a good play research paper not a good play research paper? When it may, even with the best intentions in mind, make the reality of play for children harder to achieve rather than easier. That’s when.