It’s been a couple of weeks already since play people (as opposed to real people?) gathered from all over the world at the 50th Anniversary International Play Conference, here in sunny Cardiff. There was so much amazing stuff there – to do and learn and consider – that I hardly know where to start. One place is with the photos I took at a session lead by Maggie Fearn and Pete King from Swansea University. With true devious glee, they pitched their session as an investigation of play-based research methods – and then invited us to play!
There were small world objects, a bag of mud and some other things. I made trees from mud balls and populated my miniature Serengeti with a lion and a dinosaur:
…then used my cell phone’s camera to reflect the scale of this world as I perceived it during play.
I took out a small wooden boat and poked it with a stick, round the fountain outside City Hall – because really, how often do those chances come along?
Afterwards, we talked about the experiences of play, of getting over our own pressures to “learn learn learn” while at this big ticket event, and of the deep learning that occurs when you’re truly open to play. Maggie connected this to Flow, and reframed the role of the playworker as someone who helps children (or conference attendees) to access and remain within the state of flow for as long as possible, as they move through a helix of:
orientation – attraction – engagement and response – departure – reorientation to something new
It was fascinating, and provided a relief for the playworkers present who have previously struggled with questions of when, how and why to intervene.
For myself, maintaining a state of play-flow is often difficult. I have a tendency to make it ‘work’, and pull myself out to take notes, to observe my own experience as I go along. I suppose that, for many years now, research and observation have BEEN my play, and while they are usually not in conflict it is still important for me to remember to “play for its own sake” in my own life.
It was also a fascinating opportunity to ‘be playworked’ – supported in my own flow by Maggie and Pete, who offered me, respectively, validation of my mud ball trees and a sleeve to dry my dirty hands on. Both offers genuinely helped me to remain comfortable doing silly things – the exact comfort that play-deprived people need as they succumb to the intuition-lead subversive experience of play-flow.
As a group we moved in and out of play together, sitting in a circle one moment and making connections to our childhoods, our practice, dreams we’d had and articles we’d read. We went through that process of melting our whole selves into play, of feeling connected to ourselves, to each other and the world, and to the world of dreams.
And afterwards, when I looked back at my dinosaurs, I saw that others had picked up the cues that I’d left and turned my Serengeti into something new.