I’ve been in Belgium, for a week of eating cheese, drinking beer and talking about play!
It was part of a Youth In Action funded project, led by Joost Capiau of C.I.S. – a company which produces educational games. He first asked me to participate in an international project last February, when he brought together representatives from Belgium, Malta, Montenegro, Estonia and Wales to share best practice around play and games.
Between us, we covered a broad spectrum of approaches – from educational games to playwork – and eventually developed a quick-and-dirty tool that helped us to understand how we are all connected. We called it the Grid.
I’ll be talking about it more soon, but the basic idea was to map out the principles behind our approaches, and the adult assumptions of our professions. As an international group, bridging differences in practice, it was difficult sometimes to find the right words. As such, the labeling of these axes isn’t perfect – suffice to say that, after a few intense days of living and working with people, the meanings become clearer and richer to one another than can be easily transcribed!
We labelled the vertical axis “motivation” – extrinsic (meaning educational, developmental, therapeutic) at one end and intrinsic (meaning play for its own sake) at the other. It’s important to emphasize that this grid is about adult intentions and priorities within the play space.
The horizontal axis became “frame” – but here I need to clarify, especially for a playwork audience. What we really meant was structure and direction, and how open those were to change by children. Instead of “closed frame”, we could say “adult-directed” and instead of “open”, we could say “child-directed”.
I’ve seen similar grids made by other groups, and I have to say it really helped us enormously. C.I.S., for example, generally operates in the upper right quadrant, while playwork is in the bottom left (and always pushing farther down, and farther left). Yet we could share equally in conversations about reflective practice, responsibility and authenticity.
For another example, VDS is a Belgian organization which I became acquainted with. They support volunteer staff on what they call “animated playgrounds” across the country. Amazingly, they have a reach of 1 in 4 children in Belgium! They also are close cousins of UK playwork, though farther right on the horizontal line than we would generally be. At the same time, we have a large area of overlap and I enjoyed some fascinating conversations with people there about the theories and concepts they’ve developed. I’ll be covering some of those here, over the coming weeks.
It’s so easy to get bogged down by our differences, when what we needed was a way to chat with one another about our similarities without pretending what we did was the same.
In the meantime, here are some images from the training week – and from the giant and spectacularly messy play session we ran as a Laboratory for the brand new playworkers!