“Play as Freedom”

I realized I’d been going to a lot of Conferences recently when a speaker began and I knew I’d heard the presentation already, 800 miles away and 3 months earlier.

Lucky for me, Audrey Skrupskelis‘s Play as Freedom had enough great content to keep me going twice.  The title alone warmed my anarchistic playworker heart, and I was pretty pleased to get another at taking notes (I can type like the wind but have always wished I’d learned shorthand).

She spoke movingly about the joy of play as being in the making of choices, the exercise of free will.  She talked of the thrill of self-determination, and threw out quotes at the audience like it was glitter at a nightclub.

Skrupskelis mentioned G. Stanley Hall (on whom I could find very little online), and gave a shout-out to Heraclitus by quoting: “Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play”.  She said that play is experienced as a state of rapture in which all that is not-the-play moves to a position of non-reality.

She said that play gave children a sense of power because they “understand what they are doing” – an interesting nod to play as a following of intuition, but I had always felt that an important aspect of play was that of the leap, the extension into the unknown.  The question then arises, how do we do the things that we don’t know how to do?  How does the intuitiveness of play help us light a path through the undiscovered country ahead – or in other words, wing it?  So that went onto the list of things to think about.

She also provided the phrase “autonomous play” to use in place of the often sadly abused term “free play” – and it’s always good to have another nice phrase in the arsenal.  I like that its suggestion of dignity and self-direction – something that I’ve found many adults do not expect from children.

Towards the end of her talk, Skrupskelis gave a beautiful description of a game interrupted by adults, and how that broken mood is like a world which cannot be re-entered.  There is a rudeness in being interrupted, a shattering of the mental state, that prevents it.

It reminded me powerfully of a scene in The Magician’s Nephew (my childhood favorite of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series) where Digory and Polly stand in a strange wood.  All around them are pools, each one a separate world.  They are all unique, and there is an infinite number to choose from.  Some can be found again and some, once exited, are lost forever.

I think that something similar happens in play, the way that each moment is distinct but some are linked together, like a string of beads.  Sometimes we are able to visit a play-world again and again, so that something magical and reciprocal happens.  We both create a place for ourselves in that world, and we make that world part of us, forever.

I had some seashells as a child that I could contemplate for endless passing moments, and can recall how their cream blushed to pink before disappearing inside the cave.  I remember their weight in my palm like something between ceramic and chalk, and the exact sensations of the meditative state I found there every time, and how my mind would fill with thoughts of oceans and mermaids and small slippery creatures moving through dark water.

If you want to see Skrupskelis present this paper, she’ll be doing it again at the IPA Conference in Cardiff this July!  You can go there directly after mine (on Ethnographic Playwork, Wednesday July 6th).


We also have 11 days left to raise $7,000!  This money will help us ensure a summer-long Pop-Up Adventure Playground on Governor’s Island, New York.  

This is a rare and remarkable opportunity for many of the 2 million children growing up in New York City to enjoy child-led and open-ended play provision.  It’s stocked with lots of great scrap materials, staffed by gifted playworkers and is completely free for everyone to attend.  We’re partnering with the FIGMENT NYC art festival and have been told to expect hundreds of thousands of visitors over the next 4 month period.

Your pennies, pounds and zloty can help – go to our IndieGoGo page now: http://www.indiegogo.com/Pop-Up-Adventure-Play 

There are free gifts for donators!


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