unfinished notes: “towards an explanation of why playwork is play-centred not child centred”

this is what I said to Lily in response to her blog:


Here are some snippets:

I read in a flyer for our local play-spaces in Bath and North East Somerset, a mum talking about her family’s favourite playground. “…the way it’s designed is so child-friendly’ -it means the children can play independently and do their own thing”

We speak of ‘child-friendly’ being safe, stimulating places that means an adult isn’t watching like a hawk. Is every playground child-friendly then? Do you hear of someone saying that they won’t go to a playground because its just too dangerous?

Bla bla bla, I could go on about what could be safe and what may not, but as Playworkers we will agree that safe and reliable spaces aren’t the best for play, they’re more parent-friendly than in the child’s best interest.

This is more valuable in terms of play because they are exploring something that is REAL, not predictable and tests their boundaries.

But now and then I’ll see a very safe, new adventure playground, still a bit ‘too much’ for some anxious adults. Today, a two year-old being told not get too near the water pump and then pulled away when dis-obeying. (This being probably the least-risky opportunity for water-play there is!)

I believe those children who are accessing a variety of space and taking all levels of risk are having a wide balance of play experiences.
We need to rethink this phrase of ‘child-friendly’. Its maybe a term you use in a restaurant, but not for a play space

Of course, she’s right. Play provision shouldn’t be child-friendly it should be play-friendly, and here’s why.

I need to riff on ‘-friendly’
then explain ‘-centred’
then ‘ludocentric’- as below.
then talk about the claims that playwork should make – first claim of playwork on social agents, meta version of childs first claim on society?
then help playwork devise claims which can be got acros to whoever without mashing up the play ethos. perhaps a test is needed for this last point:

TEST: can your wording do this:

  1. assert playwork
  2. assert childs needs
  3. explain distinctiveness of PW
  4. advocate for PW
  5. be put across to whoever
  6. succesfully – what is success?
  7. success is…
    • they get it
    • they repeat parts of it, es[ the distinct bits
    • they nod
    • they change behaviour as a result (might smile at you more or invite you to a meeting or..

Quite a task, now – this is what I said to Lily:

What I was trying to say in the form of billet* points:

  • it is a truism that each generation has to reinvent the core truths – of life and work and all that – for themselves. You are doing this as you examine the vexed term ‘child-centred’. You are onto something. Have you read any John Holt? googlim.
  • • this is an excellent thoughtful piece of proper written down playwork thinking. Nicely done, and let’s see more.
  • both Gordon and me claim to have invented the word ‘ludocentric’ (10 years ago in my case, as part of the ‘Edge of Recalcitrance’ presentation at Play Wales,2002). The word means play-centred. It was devised to get out of a linguistic trap and to stake a claim for playwork practice.
  • because if we say child-centred we have all sorts of problems:
    1. everybody makes this claim – shops, doctors, police, social workers, everybody, so it doesn’t help us in PW carve out a distinctive space for our practice.
    2. words, technical terms (known as jargon by those who don’t want to acknowledge the purpose, or don’t ‘get’ the idea, or to deny the purpose) are crucial in being able to label what we point to. (Without labels we couldn’t talk! All perception and communication is based on words, labels, distinctions – is that paint cream, no it’s yellow, no its more orangey, no I think its magnolia, no its lemon, no lemon is more wordy with a bit of word, mainly word but more wordy than word. Point made.)
    3. So we need our own playwork word – which is why two geezers invented ludocentric’.
    4. playwork is playcentred, not childcentred. Yes, BIG CLAIM – I’m very serious.
    5. Why? Because – if we say childcentred and there is more than one child, who want to do different things, we is snookered! But if we say play-centred, then we are supporting the play of children in the playspace, not the individual play of each of the number of individual childs! I need to explain this more, because this is a key point in my ‘Edge of Recalcitrance’ work, and I will sooon.

(*billet is somewhere to sleep which is important and nice, bullet is shooty and not nice)

There, that’s better than the gibbled smartphone typos of yesterday!

So lots to work on…


One thought on “unfinished notes: “towards an explanation of why playwork is play-centred not child centred”

  1. The above is an unfinished piece, sort of midway between draft/notes and a completed thing. If I don’t put things up, then they’ll never get finished, so here it is. Usual rules apply: this is CC ‘copylefted’ meaning quote me by all means but you must attribute me and no changee – – see sidebar: ‘Can you ‘borrow’ my words – yes’, over there on the right.

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