Of Isms and Love

Words carry weight.  I am trying to use them carefully, especially when describing how we playwork, why we playwork, what it means to us.  The right word helps to light the way.  Professionalism.  Activism.  Love?

Professionalism seems helpful.  It’s a way of remembering that we’re practitioners, after all.  If it is about holding ourselves to a high standard, we should make sure this is a standard which we set ourselves.  This word could help us find the balance between taking ourselves lightly, and our work very seriously indeed.

Activism is one of my few beloved isms.  It reminds us we are defined by our actions, not our intentions.  We know what we believe – are we doing something about it?

And if our words are all to do with playwork, another question must follow – does this conversation matter to the children?  Does it make us better playworkers?

It seems to me that, of playworkers both employed and volunteer, I’ve seen a spectrum of personal investment.  Some playworkers just love it, they thrive on the tasks at hand, they do not shy from the murky waters of reflectivity.  They are made brave by their convictions, warmed on cold windy days by their faith and motivation.  They trek out to sessions because they are curious what they will learn there, every single day.  They bring an half-intuitive magic to their practice, and by being authentic they give subtle encouragement for everyone else to do the same.

Paid or not, these playworkers do the job for its own sake.  It may be some or many of the following: “(a) self-chosen, (b) self-directed; (c) imaginitive, or creative; (d) intrinsically motivated; and (e) produced in an active, alert, but not distressed frame of mind.”  Does that make playwork our play?  Inadvertently, perhaps, when we’re not careful.  The one that ought to make us pause is “self-directed”, when we are always to be directed by the children (in one way or another).  Playwork is so emphatically not about us but it can undeniably be immersive, challenging, satisfying, just as play can be.  It might be described as flow, the flow state of playwork.  It might be experienced as love.

Of course we need to recognize our own unplanned out material and keep it away from the children, but we also need to honour the tremendous passion that goes into the choice to keep on being playworkers, in spite of the low wages and zero-hour contracts, the endless cycles of funding lost and regained, the intrusions of monitoring forms and inspections.  Many people do playwork, not just “not for the money” but in spite of serious obstacles.

Our shared profession of playwork then, done properly, done boldly and with all our hearts, is perhaps always activism.  It is always about making changes in the world, opening it to those who are pushed aside.  Playwork is always about acts.

Acts of love.


(It is always mildly obnoxious to link to something else you’ve already written on the subject, but at the bottom of this post is a beautiful poem that Eddie Nuttall made from an email conversation we’d shared.  It’s all about love and play and playwork, so fairly topical.)


One thought on “Of Isms and Love

  1. Professionalism, pah.

    Even ‘professional’ youth workers have ‘lost parity with youth workers’ (no jobs) as the cuts hit (like a space heater on a snowman /or snowwoman), and it becomes obvious that when they demand an ill-defined professionalism from people whose jobs they have deskilled and degraded, they actually mean – more pressure, same or less money. Like supermarket checkout staff, empowerment and professionalism actually mean – “it’s your responsibility, don’t make mistakes”, and the outcome is ”if your till’s wrong, it comes out of your wages“.


    That, and lots of other reasons is why I prefer ‘craft’.


    use the page’s search box to look for ‘craft’.

    Keep thinking! Never give up, never surrender!*

    Best wishes

    *obscure Galaxy Quest reference.

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