What makes me a bad playworker

There’s a particular joy in heading home after a day that went really well, a day spent sensitive to the rhythms of the play and in a state of flow.  Some sessions are obviously harder, but hardest are those when I’ve been a playworker I wasn’t proud of.  Funnily enough, I don’t post about that very often…

There have been times when I was lazy, mean, boring or desperate, when I reacted rather than responded.  I have been caught out by my own feelings taking over, even experienced a rush of fury towards a child and then instant shame.  I have trampled all over play frames and been shocked by the words coming out of my mouth.  I have misused the powers of adulthood, and am slowly learning some of the factors behind those moments – the things that have made me a bad playworker.  Here they are:

– Being overtired.  When I haven’t been getting enough sleep, have gone too long without a break, or am simply exhausted from too much intense one-to-one, my patience erodes and I get snippy.  “Yes, fine, we can get the bikes out.  AGAIN.”

– Being expected to enforce rules I don’t agree with.  No site is perfect, but some places are terrible.  Doing ‘guest’ or opportunistic playwork in another setting can be invigorating, but being expected to say “no” all day without reason begins to eat the soul.  I don’t want to quote myself on this one, but would quietly point you towards the Stamford Prison Experiment.

– Lack of practice.  When I haven’t been doing direct playwork for awhile, I start off stiff and a little formal.  A kind of playworkbot.  “Greetings, small earthling child.  Can I interest you in these tubes made from cardboard?”

– Being play deprived myself.  If I’ve been spending too long sat at my computer, entering a rich and play-focused environment makes my brain go fizzy.  I’ll get overexcited and start to hear myself sound overly, off-puttingly keen on being invited in.  “Oh, this is a castle?  Are you a Princess?  CAN I MAKE US BOTH SOME CROWNS??”

What are yours?

I guess the point is, we all have some off days.  By recognizing what is behind them we can take steps to look after ourselves offsite.  This job is a process, of course, and on the whole I think it’s important we reflect on our small errors, then move past them.  It may also help to remember some reassurance that I heard Wendy Russell give – that, on a good site, with playworkers who care to daily try their best, children will generally forgive the clumsiest of interventions.


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