Playwork is an emerging professional field with an increasingly recognised and qualified workforce.
Playwork offers services which open up opportunities for children to play, and have the freedom to choose what they want to to do. Playwork services allow for risk in play opportunities for children and young people who are usually, but not exclusively, between 4 and 16 years of age. Good playwork will always, by its nature, aim to be inclusive of children of different abilities, ethnic background and circumstances.
Playworkers work in a range of settings, both statutory and voluntary, which aim to provide for children’s play, such as out-of-school clubs, playschemes, adventure playgrounds. They may also work in a number of more specialised settings such as hospitals, refuges or family services, in which providing for play has been recognised as an important way of supporting children.
‘Playworker’ is the favoured term in the field over the older term play leader (which implies adults leading and therefore controlling children’s play – the opposite of good playwork). Similarly it is preferred to the term ‘play-care worker’ an ambiguous term which shifts the focus from the child’s play needs. Playworkers aim to facilitate the child’s play, by allowing the child to play as they want, with minimum interference from the Playworker, unless the child invites the adult into the play or there is a specific health and safety risk.
These Principles establish the professional and ethical framework for playwork and as such must be regarded as a whole.
They describe what is unique about play and playwork, and provide the playwork perspective for working with children and young people.
They are based on the recognition that children and young people’s capacity for positive development will be enhanced if given access to the broadest range of environments and play opportunities.
1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.
2. Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
3. The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.
4. For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas.
5. The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.
6. The playworker’s response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up to date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.
7. Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people’s play on the playworker.
8. Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well being of children.
You can obtain a copy of the Playwork Principles from www.skillsactive.com/playwork/principles
The role of the playworker
The playworker is engaged with enabling or facilitating play opportunities. The way that they do this is characterised as ‘low intervention, high response’. That is, the playworkers should do everything possible to ensure that choice and control of their play stays with the child. Playworkers make themselves available to respond to the needs or the invitation of the child.
The degree of ‘enabling’ a playworker might do depends on the needs, personality, age and ability of the child or children – or even just the mood of the children on a particular day.
Best Play (2000) suggests two key tasks of playworkers: enrichment of play and management of risk.
‘The playworker’s core function is to create an environment which will stimulate children’s play and maximise their opportunities for a wide range of play experiences. A skilled and experienced playworker is capable of enriching the child’s play experience both in terms of the design and resources of the physical environment and in terms of the attitudes and culture fostered within the play setting.’
A playworker will bring new dimensions to the play environment, act as a resource for the children and provide some of the stimulus for new experiences. For example, the playworker might arrange to bring in musicians and sculptors, tools and junk materials, storytellers and parents to share skills.
Other aspects of playwork practice
Playwork recognises the importance of risk in children’s play and playworkers actively support play opportunities that offer risk and challenge to the children. Experienced playworkers’ role in managing risk requires professional judgement regarding when and how to intervene in children’s play. They should be aware of not disrupting the play unnecessarily while ensuring the children aren’t exposed to unacceptable risks.
Other roles of the playworker include acting as an advocate for children and children’s play, building relationships and networks, undertaking organisational and project development tasks.
Particular significance is given to skills both in observation of children’s play and reflective practice in order to improve the play environment, provision or playwork practice. A number of practitioners and settings have developed tools and practices which aid observation and reflective practice such as reflective diaries recorded by individuals or groups.
Playworkers can make extensive use of networks resulting in a range of benefits to the provision. Networks can be likened to a web of relationships with potential funders, volunteers, outside agencies, the local community, politicians, families.
The value of contact with other playworkers should not be overlooked. Study visits and exchanges are especially useful – whether it is with a nearby club, with a provision elsewhere in Scotland or further afield. Membership of relevant professional organisations can keep the playworker up-to-date with invaluable information and ideas from the field. Access to the internet also greatly increases the possibility of being in contact with the playwork community nationally and internationally.
Qualifications and Training
Qualifications and training in playwork are currently undergoing rapid change and expansion. This is driven by the Scottish Services Council’s registration agenda for all Playworkers (and early years workers) to be registered. The registration requirements are linked to job functions which in turn are linked to qualifications.
Currently a support worker would register with the SVQ ;Level 2 Playwork or National Progression Award. A Playwork Practitioner would register with an SVQ Level 3 Playwork or an HNC with Playwork options. A Lead Practitioner/Manager in Playwork, would register with an SVQ Level 4 Playwork . (Please view the SSSC web site to view further qualifications linked to registration requirements). The new Scottish Modern Apprenticeship Framework was launched earlier this year and a playwork Modern Apprenticeship is now available in Scotland. The National Manager for Scotland (Chidlren and Young People) for SkillsActive (formerly SPRITO) can provide further guidance on qualifications and training.
As in any field the role of the professional playworker is discussed and debated. Current debate concerns the relationship of playwork to other professions for example, childcare and education; the degree to which playwork should challenge dominant trends in society; the role of playworkers in therapeutic practice; how to make the case for play and playwork heard by policy makers; and how to increase public awareness and understanding of the value of play.
- Theresa Casey
Play is becoming a current hot topic for the Scottish Government as it forms one of the key outcomes in the Early Years Framework. This adds to the debate about risk and play as opposed to play and education.
Brown F. (ed) (2003) Playwork Theory and Practice. Buckingham: Open University Press
NPFA (2000) Best Play – what play provision should do for children, London: NPFA/Children’s Play Council/PLAYLINK
PLAYLINK (2001) Making sense – playwork in practice. London: PLAYLINK
Hughes B. (2001) Evolutionary Playwork and Reflective Analytic Practice. London: Routledge
Working in Playwork
Information from SkillsActive
There are more out of school clubs than ever before, and other playwork settings are on the increase too. Playworkers are now a highly respected workforce, recognised for the valuable input they have into children’s lives. The Daycare Standards, as part of the Scottish Social Service’s Council’s Registration Agenda, are used to regulate play settings for under 8s mean that playworkers need to be well trained and qualified. This means that being a playworker is rewarding, valued and also leads to career development opportunities. There has never been a better time to take up a career working with children.
The Role of a Playworker
Playworkers work with school aged children in out of school settings. Different playwork settings are run in different ways, but all aim to give the children and young people choices about how they spend their leisure time.
Playworkers facilitate a range of play opportunities and provide children with a safe place to play, socialise, try out new things or just spend quiet time. Safety in a play setting doesn’t mean children can’t take risks – after all, risk is often what makes play fun. It means the playworker has thought about protecting the children from harm, for example providing crash mats for a made up climbing game or helping the children work out their own safety rules.
Play helps children develop in many ways, and a playworker might find themselves involved in creative activities, sporty games, drama, den building, cooking and talking to a child about their worries all in the same day. No two days are the same, and the work is never likely to be boring!
A playworker needs to be:
- A good team worker, and get on well with children, their parents/carers and with other staff.
- Able to plan activities with children and young people.
- Flexible – if children want to change their plans or don’t want to take part it’s their choice.
- Good at listening to children.
The children who attend playwork settings come from all walks of life and will all have different abilities and personalities. Some disabled children using play settings need additional support, others who have extra help at school might not need it in a play setting. A good playworker will be able to work well with all sorts of children.
It’s important to remember that even though many playwork settings offer childcare for parents, the time children and young people spend in the play setting is their leisure time.
There are many settings in which to work with children as a playworker including the following:
Breakfast clubs: 8:00-9:00am
- Parents bring children to club
- Children can have breakfast
- Staff take children to school
- Some activities may be provided
After-school clubs: 3:00-6:00pm
- Caters for 4 -14 year olds
- Parents book children in
- Clubs collect children from school
- Parents collect children from club
- Most clubs organise a refreshment break during the session
- Open access, the bus goes to clubs, groups, play areas or other appropriate places
- The children may come and go at will
- Activities can be organised
- In some cases the bus staff may organise something only open to members of a group or club
Play Centre/Youth Groups
- Play centre/youth groups can cater for a variety of age ranges 8-14 years, 11-14 years, 13-18 years, up to 25 years
- Venues vary from purpose built buildings to village halls, church rooms and schools
- Opening times vary from one day to everyday of the week
Open access, children can come and go at will
Children do not need to be booked in and out of the playground
The staff supervise outdoor activities and equipment
Outdoor play equipment is often designed and built by the children
Some activities may be available indoors, often led by the children
Holiday Play Schemes
Holiday play schemes are usually for 4-14 year olds but some may be open to older children
Play schemes can be run by a variety of organisations, for example the church, voluntary organisations and uniformed groups
The times of opening and the number of days per week vary between schemes
Not all settings fit with these descriptions, for example, some after school clubs may be open access, playbuses may run activities in a variety of settings including open access play in public parks or after school clubs in village halls, some adventure playgrounds run sessions like after school clubs.
Employment and career prospects
As well as working directly with children as a playworker, there are other employment opportunities in the field of Playwork. Here are some examples:
Managing staff and resources on a large site or for a play service in a local authority.
- Establishing new play provision in a community for a voluntary association.
- Taking forward the National Childcare Strategy for an Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership.
- Developing education and training opportunities in a region.
Small to Medium Business Enterprise
- Setting up and managing one or more after school clubs.
Training Provider and Trainer
- Developing and running training courses in Playwork.
- Delivering Playwork training.
- Assessing playworkers working towards an NVQ.
- An experienced playworker could train to work in play therapy or specialise in working with children with identified needs in play settings.
Volunteer Development Scotland estimate that 983,664 volunteers work 113,552,796 hours (67,590 full-time job equivalent) in Scotland each year with their local community, charities, clubs, associations and countless other sectors. Working closely with paid workers, volunteers make up a vital part of the workforce in this country. The personal benefits that people can gain from volunteering are:
- Meeting new people.
- A sense of personal achievement.
There are also other important benefits that can be gained such as:
The opportunity to learn new skills or gain a qualification which can be used to improve a person’s employability.
Helping to shape the organisation or community.
Achieving a position in an organisation or community.
Education, Training and Qualifications
Playworkers need to be trained and qualified workers. From 2010, all Playworkers must be registered with SSSC, which means they also have to have gained or working towards a relevant qualification suitable to their job function. There are qualifications available at all levels of Playworker – support worker, practitioner, and lead practitioner/manager. For more information on registration and the qualifications required by the SSSC go to www.sssc.uk.com
People who are interested in working with children but not sure what they would like to do can attend a training course called “Making Choices”. The course was written to help you make an informed choice about which age group and setting they wish to work in. It is delivered by Local Authorities Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships.
There are a lot of different playwork qualifications available now. You can work towards a qualification in different ways, depending on what suits you – full-time or part-time study, distance learning, training sessions on evening and weekends or e-learning. Qualifications are offered by private, voluntary sector and local authority training providers, Further Education Colleges and Universities. Playwork qualifications include S/NVQs, as well as diplomas and degrees available from universities. There is a wide range of Playwork training courses available and SkillsActive provide a list of courses which have been approved by people involved in Playwork. Training keeps your skills and knowledge up to date and can give you new ideas and inspiration.
Quality Training, Quality Play 2006-2011
SkillsActive has launched Scotland’s first ever strategy to address education, training and qualifications in the Playwork sector.
The aim of this strategy is to improve the quality and range of play opportunities for children and young people.
They are working closely with Play Wales, PlayBoard N.I., Play Scotland and children’s organisations and servies across the UK.
For a copy please click here