Play frames

Playwork has so many gloriously useful bits of theory and vocabulary.  It’s full of words which are essential to this unique understanding of play and ourselves.  One of my absolute favorites, particularly when talking with people outside of the field, is ‘play frame’.

Wood and Kilvington share the most commonly used definition in Reflective Playwork: For All Who Work With Children, saying:

“A frame is a boundary or a surround for something.  The play frame can be a material or non-material boundary (a place in the environment or in the mind or emotions) that contains play episodes that can last from moments to weeks or months.”

In Sturrock and Else’s work on the Play Cycle, play frames are said to  physical, narrative or even emotional, as “when play is exploring a particular feeling, so the props, the action, the place and the story can keep changing because it’s the experience of the feeling that holds it all together”.  Once frames are understood, all sorts of other playwork theories and terms start to make sense.  Students can then grasp concepts such as the play cycle, annihilation and (perhaps most importantly) adulteration.  But play frames themselves are nuanced and delicate things, right at the heart of our practice.  We can start by noticing how they function in our own lives – think of a group of friends talking in a public place.  That conversation has a physical and social perimeter and when someone crosses either in a deliberate trespass, conversation stops.  We already perceive and navigate the frames of others all the time, but adults often miss noticing those of children at play.

I’m putting together a little series of blog posts on play frames.  We’ll looking at different aspects of how people perceive, communicate and respect frames in practice.  Then, we’ll get into questions of holding the integrity of a play frame, and ways we might reframe what’s happening – not alteration for its own sake, but to allow play to continue when it otherwise might be shut down.  If you have stories or questions or aspects that you want to share, let me know!


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