What are Playworkers?
“Leading a playground is not like leading play and occupation. The children are sovereign and the initiative must come from them… to organise and arrange programmes is to stifle imagination and initiative and preclude children whose lively curiosity and interest demanded new outlets. We should not forget that play itself is a natural process, shaped by the child’s own interest at any given time and the possibilities offered by any given environment… no matter how we might consider play potential in our present and future design, children will continue to interpret this in their own way (Benjamin, 1974: 1&3).
Playworkers are the staff on an adventure playground whose purpose is to support play. They enter into play only when their presence is needed or requested. They ensure the space is supportive of many types of play and to secure it from hazards. Playworkers offer "unconditional positive regard" and believe the best about children in their care.
Playworkers recognize that children need play and have a right to play and autonomy and prioritize both. Playworkers watch for a child’s play cues, respond to extend and support their play. Sometimes a child needs a listening ear or someone to chase them or maybe a roll of duct tape-- Playworkers look out for these needs and respond in care. As adults in a space owned by children, playworkers are also mindful of their impact on play, working intentionally to respond thoughtfully without judging or guiding play. The interference of an adult will take these magical opportunities away from the child's growth, development, and experience, so we actively look for ways to give a child's play back to them.
The Playwork Principles are used as tools and guideposts for good practice. Playworkers are constantly reflecting, analyzing play experiences, interpreting play cues, reflecting on personal behaviors or opinions and altering environments to help create meaningful opportunities where self-directed play is available for all kids.
Prof. Fraser Brown, is the first from playwork background to be appointed as a university professor (see his bio here), claims that playwork is “essentially concerned with the following:
Creates play opportunities that enable children to pursue their own play agenda
Enriches the child’s world by providing opportunities for experimentation and exploration
Creates environments that address the negative effects of play deprivation and play bias
Develops appropriate responses for individual play cues
Facilitates opportunities for children to develop a sense of self
Introduces flexibility and adaptability into play environments in order to enhance the prospects of children achieving their full potential." (Brown, F., Play and Playwork:101 Stories, 2016)
More Information on Playwork & Playworkers
Reflective Playwork for all who work with children by Ali Wood and Jacky Klivington depicts the importance of play for a child and the work of a playworker. This book is valuable to all those who work with children to gain new perspectives and to adapt the playwork way. KOOP uses this book when new playworkers are interested in learning more and for weekly reflective practice.
Some great reads from the Playwork Foundation. This one particularly is written by an 11 year old girl on the right to play.
You can read about the Journeys of Morgan and Suzanna of Pop Up Adventure Play as they travel through North America to different adventure playgrounds, telling stories, sharing anecdotes about starting an adventure playground in their book The New Adventure Playground Movement.