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."
A biographical short on how schools treat the recess/playtime periods at school for objectives other than playing.
"Well if you can’t learn to behave yourself properly then I’m banning you from this week’s lesson on the Tudor kings and queens.”
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 the state of children's psychic health and witches.
"After delivering my paper there was only sporadic applause for my efforts and despite the convener asking if anyone had questions there were none. Once I got back to my hotel though the emails started to arrive."
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."
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.
a \‘shȯrt-rēd’\ piece
"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."
1,100 words about the latest reserch into the effects of children playing computer games with violent themes and dangerous behaviour involving firearms. It's not quite what you might expect.
"The history of children’s play is littered with examples of adults expressing concern over the negative impact of certain types of play. In the old days it was concern over things like spinning tops (I kid you not) but in a modern context the biggest fears are possibly about a presumed link between computer games with violent storylines and real violence."
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."
900 words asking when is a good research paper not a good research paper, highlighting issues with one recently published piece on the play of school playgrounds.
"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."
500 words about scary news headlines, ignorance about the reality of children at the play, and the right and wrong questions to be asking.
“Shocking” and “unbelievable” says an article reporting a story that has grabbed national attention in the UK this week. This is in response to a story about a group of children seen playing ‘chicken’ in the road.
"The approach that often well-meaning campaigns, such as the latest Irish ‘Let’s take on childhood obesity’ campaign, adopt in relation to children playing, often leaves me cold."
This piece describes how assumptions about children's lives can sometimes override reality and that even well-meaning people can advance projects that they might feel will be of benefit but which ultimately are just trying to fix something that simply is not broken.
"It is not enough for adults to just explain reality in a real world context to children – to make sense of our type of reality children must do so in their own way and that means playing it through in their own non-adult reality."
The topic of war, weapon and superhero play is a thorny one that can be divisive yet there is one easily overlooked, sometimes ridiculed element of such play that should inform us on what our attitude towards it should be.
"It now seems routine that not only is TV news footage of children altered to disguise identity but so are images of children gathered for other reasons too."
Fuzzy and headless children are everywhere and we think it is contributing to making children's lives safer but it is not. The real effect is a negative one and it affects more than just children.
"I realised how tempted I was to point out to these two adults why their boys could not contain themselves and note that they themselves were creating an impossible situation for themselves and their sons - but it would have been ugly. So I didn’t."
Parents and other adults can be oblivious to the effect their actions can have on the children around them and can sometimes sap the wonder from children's experiences. This story describes two such examples - one conscious the other not.
"He momentarily lost his balance but once he’d recovered he put the stick back on the fence and carried on plinking and plonking."
Adults can help and adults can hinder. It's as simply a matter of attitude.
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.