Souvenirs of Play and Travel

I have felt a little thrown lately, having gone a few weeks without doing much playwork, and am slowly pulling together the bits of paper with notes I’ve furiously scribbled to myself.

The Beauty of Play Conference (already a month ago!) was spectacular, a remarkable opportunity to remember and experience play.  Adults and children play very differently and for different reasons, but there was something so potent in the open offers of the site that those differences seemed thin.  We put on face paint and charged around hollering, we made music by banging sticks on trees and watched our marshmallows carefully for signs of burning, we played games of war, mystery and blindfolded exploration.  Our ordinary hesitancies melted away in the face of such brilliant opportunities to have fun and then talk about with some of the smartest people around.

It’s a radical idea for most theorists, this level of personal involvement.  It made me realize how strange our common assumptions about conferences are – why should a conference dedicated to understanding play take its arrangements from school?  Closed rooms and rigid timetables are standard at most conferences, as are PowerPoint presentations and that horrible moment of standing with your lunch tray and wondering where to sit.  Why is any of this necessary? 

I wonder whether play, as a rather niche discipline, has sometimes made efforts to prove its legitimacy that risk compromising the very values which set the field apart.  Independence.  Direct engagement.  The marshalling all the senses for an adventure of discovery.

Having recently spent more time than usual at the office making phone calls, drawing up new training materials and planning for events, I’m realizing how vital doing the playwork really is if you’re going to be any good at talking about it.  Already I can feel myself go rusty at the edges, and those notes I made at previous sessions have lost much of their immediacy.

I still have them though, and the distance can serve a useful purpose.  My folders of photographs and audio recordings of play are just waiting for me to go through them.  Looking at the evidence of play requires a little quiet, some time to think, and the great impossible task of imagining oneself into the mind of another.

Below are some more images from the Gambia trip.  Travelling, like play, takes you out of your ordinary routines and expectations.  It offers you the chance to feel awakened, altered – to experience everything more acutely.  Just like play, the brilliance of travel can quickly fade once you’re back at home.

As these images were taken by the children themselves, they can be seen as evidence of play, as they fiddled with my camera, experimenting with image-making and laughing uproariously at the results.






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