Guidance on Playwork


What is Playwork

The theory and practice of playwork recognises that children’s play must be ‘Freely chosen, personally driven and intrinsically motivated. Children’s playing must not be ‘Adulterated’ by any adult or external agendas.

It is the job of a playworker to ensure that the broadest possible range of Play Types are available to children, to observe, reflect and analyse the playing that is happening and select a mode of intervention or make a change to the playspace if needed.  Playworkers ensure that the play space is inclusive – supporting all children to make the most of the opportunities available in their own way.

Playwork is a highly skilled profession that enriches and enhances children’s play.

Being qualified in Playwork can lead to a wide range of jobs, working in a range of settings, including:

  • Play centres
  • Nurseries
  • After school clubs
  • Holiday play-schemes
  • Mobile play-schemes operating from buses and vans
  • Hospitals and other NHS settings
  • Prisons

Play rangers work with children in parks and open spaces and, in some areas, playworkers can be found in schools.

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.

‘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 providing the opportunities for  the child to play as they want. The Playworker would ensure that they have minimum intervention in the child’s play, unless the child invites the adult into the play or there is a specific health and safety risk.


Playwork Principles

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.

Playwork Principles Poster – downloadable pdf


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.

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

The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) are the regulatory body which registers all workers in the Day Care of Childrens Services. Playworkers working in Out of School Care, Play centres and Playschemes fall within this category. Registration to the register is now part of Scottish Law. The registration catagories are linked to job function which in tur is 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 , in the first instance leading to a SCQF Level 9 qualification such as the PDQ Childhood Practice at SCQF Level 9 or a BA in Childhood Practice. (Please view the SSSC web site to view further qualifications linked to registration requirements). The Scottish Modern Apprenticeship Framework Active Leisure and Wellbeing at level 2 and level 3 has a pathway for Playwork. The National Manager for Scotland for SkillsActive can provide further guidance on qualifications and training and MA’s.


Current Debate

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

Link to Scottish Government National Play Strategy


Play Library

For full list of literature which you may find useful click here