Informal Chat

I had recently been invited to have an informal chat with a charity to support them deliver a school based  Play Project. So as you do before a chat, I prepared and refreshed my memory, dragged some information onto my touchpad to read on the bus journey down. I had arrived into the area earlier than expected, so decided to walk the last half an hour relax and listen to a football podcast on my iphone.

Upon arrival I unwarapped my outdoor clothing, and was greeted with a firm handshake, a smile and offered a cuppa. I declined the hot drink.

20 minutes into our chat…………… and bazaar. Bazaar in the sense that I found myself fuelled with more and more questions. Now I had about nine  typed up on my  touchpad that I had intended asking near the end of our chat, but at this stage had a feeling I would not require them.

A period passed and our chat moved onto whether the children attending the settings currently had ownership of their Play Spaces, and how their play benefited within the projects at each setting. I wanted to be comfortable. Now the package proposal had been beneficial to me, and as much as I had been thinking to rain back some quite direct and indepth comments about their Play Strategy and Play Policy I felt it necessary to ask. What was fascinating about this informal chat firstly had been that I was used to being on the other side of the table preparing for people to attend, with questions of employment, and today it was me on the other side. Secondly, as focused as I was, I found myself looking into their eyes and wondering whether they realised how comfortable and empowered I felt, and the depth and nature of their questions highly appropriate to the role in question. I felt intrigued about the background and work history of the panel that had been asking me questions, and the use of descriptive language allowed me to picture them at work. Their introduction about the charity, its role, their projects continued to appeal to me.

I like feeling relaxed in a work environment, and firmly believe if the structure of the organisation I propose to work for is not in place, then just be transparent, don’t send me down up a wild goose chase, and sell something that’s not there. If work needs to be done, reviewing or developing areas, make me be aware from the off. I felt that I needed to be clear. I needed my own reassurances that this Playwork journey was also right for me.

We spoke about resources and planning review, and whether they could support funding from having a plan in place. Their strategy appeared seemless. A warm sensation rose from the pit of my stomach as we spoke about polices and guidelines and how they carry out reflective practice, and whether their polices refer in anyway to the Playwork Principles. We spoke about targets, and the development of audits, and the effectiveness of budgets. I encouraged them to think about different views of sourcing equipment. It is not about only using GLS, or your local high streets. Where is the nearest scrap project ? and do you have membership? mmmmm………. they began taking notes.

We spoke about the physical space of the settings, and whether the children or managers, and staffing teams when facilitating activity programmes squeeze out as much Play Spaces as they could. Thoughts about the relationship with the school, and premises officer, and the headteachers understanding of Play. I wanted to know whether the children would be in a position to use chalk on walls, as these too make up the physical space. If there are slopes, can they become iconic space for play. I wanted to be in a position to try to make the children think ‘wow’ when they think of Play Opportunities when at their Play Space. Get settings to look at ‘loose parts’, and the introduction and continuation of this concept. Think about workshop sessions on Play. Think about creating ‘method statements’ on certain activities and procedures.The role of MTS (Meal Time Supervisors) within the development, support, implementation of Play. Would observations, monitoring and evaluations be part of this mechanism?

Fire Play. I could see his eyes nearly roll out of his head.

But I then explained start with warmth, and scale the activity or project, ending with fire. Warmth. Toffee apples,  heat, keeping warm, sounds, images, food sensations all relating to use of fire.

Think about space, resources, opportunities.Think about the involvement of schools, parents, community. How can they contribute ? Think about what jobs, careers are parents involved with, and how they can support the setting ? This led me onto impact and improvement. Does Play affect the reduction in bullying ? if bullying occurred. Do children within the setting enjoy Play ? and what systems to capture Play impact after breaks. Are children calmer after breaks, and how do they wind down ?Are breaks contributing to changes in children’s behaviour ?

Then the growling started, and the possibility of an embarrassing moment. I paused as now maybe I should have had that hot drink, and for a period questioned myself whether it would be rude to ask for one. Yes, No, Yes, No ? I chose the latter, and instead tensed my stomach and for the life of me, this became the only moment of uncertainty throughout the informal chat . I started to think is this where I conclude the informal chat and start to give more brief answers which would allow it to finish earlier, or do I just hope that the packet of crisps will perfrom its role, and quiet down the churning of my stomach.

CPD.CPD.CPD.

CPD. I wanted to see, or work with a school based Play Project developing a Play CPD possibly for a year. So I’m thinking sessions and or workshops on Play for parents, and governors. Capturing newsletters and content for parents. Yes, Yes ….. ‘We can be training solutions to your needs’ – wonderful statement. This could be another string to this charity, an opportunity to carry out training sessions. Tie ‘loose parts’ into school Play based CPD, and monitor the children’s involvement.

Partnerships. Fourth strand of support, are children involved in development of job descriptions, are they involved in interviews, are they involved in things that appeal to them, and how does this project manage this process ? Do children have links with school maintenance systems ?Does the grass have to be cut or grown to the same lengths? How does school Play based project works with local providers, and are opportunities accessible ?

Playwork Principles…… am I pushing it too far now. I wanted them to think about children developing their own handbook of their setting, and make settings think about the purpose of Play, and encourage the school ‘s to allow children to provide feedback on their setting aims or aspirations. I encouraged them to make them have this vision statement, document and how this plan will be implemented. Why not ask the school for Play to be placed, listed in an evaluation for parent and carers ?

More questions began to flow, and I glanced at my watch and realised that we had been speaking for nearly an hour, and in a professional manner concluded the informal chat right, wrong or indifferent.

Now it is likely that my next blog will indicate that I was unsuccessful, and you can have a chuckle and see why, but then again I felt refreshed and empowered and enlightened when I left. And while I must admit that I needed to have nap upon returning home, the informal chat was wonderful. It re-enforecd why I am still greatful for being actively involved within this profession of Play, and why communicating with other Playwork Practitioners makes me feel alive.

Thank you for your time.

Relaxed…………. our informal chat ended. So I wrapped back up warm, popped on my headphones and continued listened to my football podcast on the way home.

Blog Observation Series 4 ep2

I arrive to find C, a Playworker, and D speaking with children about group agreements before leaving out to go to the park. A few children are seated, others standing, all looking towards C and D. The children are telling D how to use the green cross code, and about being safe on the road. A child speaks out to say that ‘you must listen to staff when they go to the park’. This opens a discussion amongst the children, and they exchange ‘yes’ and ‘no’ comments with friends and staff. They appear to be agreeing on most of the information being exchanged. D has waited for a period of time allowing the children to speak, then continues reading from a piece of paper in her hand. She is speaking with children about drinking lots of water, staying predominately out of the sun, having hats on, and what equipment to bring along to the park.

D supports C in calling out the register before they leave., and explains that the register will be taken again upon arrival to park, and again before they leave to return to the after school club. She is informing the children of the play spaces within the park, and additional tennis court area. She speaks with them about using yellow bands, keeping them on, and stresses the time of departure and arrival back at after school club.

One of the children asks D what they will do when they get back. D begins to talking about the possible activities they can play later, and a girl streaks with joy upon hearing dodge ball being an option. D states that the winner of the butterfly competition will also be discussed when they arrive back, agreements with children being made.

D is seated with a girl who is crying, and begins to support girl to remove sweater top, they both stand. Girl has wet/damp tissues dabbing her eyes.

D is now standing, occasionally walking around the hall looking around. Some girls are running in main after school club area screaming chasing each other. Three boys are playing with balloons, and using rolled up cardboard to hit each other; stating “it can’t touch the floor”.

Another girl is blowing up a balloon and hands it to D, and asks ‘can you to tie a knot’? D moves and sits with boys on a table. They have cards in their hands. A couple of the boys are sitting on chairs, a girl is standing in front of D blowing up a balloon, the card dealer is sitting on the table shuffling the cards.

The children are asking D whether they can go to the toilet before they leave to go to the park.

D is supporting other staff to put sun cream into children’s hands, the children are applying it to themselves. D is supporting a few younger children as she starts to rub the sun cream over the foreheads.

D is speaking with C about their plan of action for the visit to the park. It is an alarmingly hot day today. I can hear D making suggestions to C about driving her car to the park with all the children’s lunch boxes so they do not have to carry them. D is supporting C with head counts of the children, and is speaking with children about wearing hats. D has picked up a folder marked registration details, and states to C that she will take these along with the other equipment. D asks children to all grab a partner, and get paired up.

D says to C that she is ‘just going to double check the toilets before they leave’. D returns to hall area, and enters a cupboard. She has a few toilet rolls in her hand, then re-enters the toilet area.

Once outside D drives her car and parks at convenient space for children to approach and place bags/lunch boxes/play equipment into boot of her car. Children are being reminded that they are free to carry what they want to. Some children are carrying their water bottles, and containers with refreshments, liquids, and majority have on caps/hats. D is encouraging children to hold hands. D is asking C whether she has everything she needs. D asks C to double check before departing in her car.

I walk with the children, and other staff members for the short walk to the park

At the park Y has joined the group, she was not at the after school club earlier. D and Y make their way over to the playbuilders park. Before they leave D informs C that she is just going to carry out a visual risk assessment. I ask D what she was looking for, or found upon her return. D says that they found an area where they had been a fair amount of dog mess, and covered it with leaves, and a cardboard box. She had written on the box ‘DO NOT Remove’, and indicated that it would stop any other children walking, running or slipping in it. D spoke about how the children may hurt themselves if they slipped, also the infection side of things if their hands go in the mess, and more so the mocking that may take place if some stepped in it. D spoke about bullying and name calling if one of the kids had dog mess on their shoes. Also the moving about of the mess on their shoes, messing up their play space or environment.

D spoke about putting couple vodka and beer cans in the bin, and also checking, and having a go on the equipment before the children came over, just to double check that it was all safe. D said that it was always good to carry out the assessment in pairs “because sometime another staff member may see something you didn’t”,  but also because she need to ask Y advice on what to do with the dog mess they identified earlier.

Children now in playbuilders park area, which is positioned to the left of the nearby housing estate. Some of the area is fenced off, with over grown grass area, many trees, and a field to give a woodland feel. Man made resources, play opportunities place within area. Spider web, slides, multiple see saws on mounds of grass area allows running, rolling, jumping, crawling, and climbing. Bottom of zipped wire has pebble dashed, and new age roundabout fitted, allowing children to slide or walk.

D is standing beside the zip wire as children are supporting each other to take turns. A few are asking D for support , I can hear her encouraging a few of the children that appear hesitant to “have a try first, before I help you”, D stands back while the children have a go on the zipped wire. There are screams and laughter as a few children fall off. I ask D why she carried out the visual risk assessment earlier. She explains that it is part of the staff’s responsibility to do at the club, and when they are on trips, and that staff take turns. D also says that by doing the risk assessments it can also help children enjoy themselves without staff worrying too much, because we have already checked everyone. “We don’t want to make it completely safe, because we still want them to have a little risky play”. D says that they also do it because it is in their Policies and Procedures to do checks.

D is positioned standing in full view of where children are on zipped wire, and supporting those that ask her for help; “hold on tight”. D has supported process of being on zipped wire for girl who has been crying. The girl is indicating to D that she has not fallen over but one of the other children have tripped her up a few times. D is now speaking with her, and lowered herself to the girls eye level. The girl is attempting to place her arms around D, in the appearance of a hug. ‘it’s getting on my nerves’ the girl has said to D, they keep following me and tripping me up. The girl is now pulling D’s hand and saying “come let me show you who they are” D and the girl walk away.

D has started to speak to me about how multicultural the after school club is generally, but has extended by saying that it has also been refreshing to see so many new children attend for the summer. D is speaking about the different abilities of the children, and those dependent upon their siblings. She is being descriptive in identifying the individual needs of some of the children, and commenting how much she values this, and how the information has helped her and the other Playworkers to plan the summer a little better

More children are joining the line to have a go on the rope swing. D is now assisted by Y.

Two children have approached D and are sitting while D elaborates upon her earlier thoughts about the summer scheme. One of the girls had been the child who fell on the grass earlier, and had started to cry. She was accompanied by one of the older girls who allowed her to go to the front of the line on the zipped wire.

D has stopped talking with me, as the younger girl hugs her to say that “D you always understand you’re the best”. D blushes, she starts to talk about encouraging other children not just at the club but in school also about children’s differences, and ‘diversity’, and listening when other children talk. D say’s to the girls that it’s important to listen as ‘sometimes other people’s points of view or opinions may be right’ The girl goes back to give D a bear hug, and attempts to sit on D’s lap.

Blog Observation Series 3 ep1

Series 3 Welcome to J – snippet

On entry to the dining area I hear J engaged in a conversation, and make my way to the kitchen. J and C, another member of staff are unwrapping pizza and garlic bread purchased from the shop for the children’s snacks. J greets me and asks “do you want to try this”. J hands me a tiny round orange fruit with green and brown leaves and say’s it’s a “chrysalis fruit”. C laughs as say’s maybe it’s a name we shouldn’t say too loud.  It is the first time I have tasted this small seeded, really tangy citrus fruit. J says this will be provided as choice for children to taste today,

Holiday club had music from Grease playing out loud. J is involved in a conversation with a few children; “what one thing can you not do tomorrow” one child said “wet you”, J said “correct”, other little ones started to laugh and say “I will get you, and continued interchange with her for about a minute.

J and I walk from the hall area towards the classroom, and into the playground. Children freely moving within inside and outside areas. Child walked passed with tennis bat, and ball while others watching T.V programme/girls sitting amongst themselves laughing and having conversation, another throwing and catching shuttle cock by himself on carpet area inside. Another child using stencils on table, sitting by themselves with colours and white paper.

It is a warm day, and coloured tissue paper tied to a structure are blowing in the breeze. Children continue to play around us and parents wave and have short conversations as I observe the children and young people in the outdoor area.

A little girl approaches us and speaks to J in a foreign language, J responds, and the little girl laughs and walks away. J say’s C, does this quite regularly, leaving the other children mystified as she switches from English to French in a conversation.

Blog Observation Series 2 ep 2

Blog Observation Series are fictional pieces of work, and form the journey of a newly qualified Playwork Assessor.

This is a continuation of T from Series 2

T turns as she hears my voice. T is seated with a child in her arms. The girl has two large coloured crayons in her hands. T is wearing a coloured name badge today.  T stands and walks towards me with the girl still in her arms.

T offers me another biscuit, I decline as I have just bitten into the first one. The girl smiles and reaches out towards me with a vacant hand, I verbally reply “good morning, are you offering me your crayon?”. T informs me that she is attempting to communicate by stretching out her hand. I offer my hand, child places hand on mind, palm to palm, and smiles. We repeat the process, though this time she offers me a crayon.

I have noticed the difference in materials and resources out for the children to access today. There are four tables, six children, three staff, and four parents. On one the tables there are wooden farm buildings, on another, felt tips, coloured tissue paper, coloured card, glue, pasters, pallets and fine cut coloured paper. The other table has plastic food opportunities, with money till beside the home corner. I can see books, Lego, drums, skittles pots pans, wooden blocks, and cars all accessible by the children.

More children and parents are arriving.  The setting is busy, vibrant and has an energetic feel to it today. Parents are involved in conversations amongst themselves, and workers, the children are engaging in play opportunities moving in and outside of the building, some eating biscuits, others fruit.

T has walked with girl to another play opportunity, they are standing in front of the table with the food stall, plastic fruits, plates, teapots and canned fruit. Girl picks up fruit and places crayons on the table. She now has a banana and pineapple in each hand.  T collects a book then moves to the table with paper, glue and colours. T sits in front of girl’s mother, bouncing girl mildly on her lap. Girl smiles, which soon turns to a laugh. T holds girl and allows her to stand, all the time supporting as she is unable to walk.

The girl smiles, bends her legs, then straightens, “are you trying to walk to mummy”, T say’s “you trying to walk”.

T is seated in the soft cushioned and carpet area, the girl is crawling around. She crawls towards the soft duck toy, T say’s “quack, quack”, and offers the toy to the girl, as she is struggling to reach it, mother now repeats T’s actions, and ends by placing rattler in her daughters hand.

T is having a conversation with the girl’s mother. She speaks with T about her daughter’s likes and dislikes, and reasons she gets frustrated. Mother say’s that her daughter enjoys the one-to-one interaction.

Girl is positioned closer to T, they remain on the ground. Mother say’s that her daughter likes anything that has a B, and say’s “Bah bah, bath, bubble” all the time emphasizing on the letter B.  T say’s “Bah bah” girl laughs. Girl attempts to stand, and is holding onto a chair, she wobbles back, T places her hand behind the girl to support her standing. Girl is looking at T. T places her on coloured padded soft whale, and slides her down making a fast motion sound,

T is touching a toy to activate a flute sound, and start the lights. The girl responds by touching, and repeating T’s action. T extends by touching toy again, girl repeats.

T stands to walk away, the girl’s head and eyes follow T, T aware of this and turns around and walks back to where mother and child are. Girl reaches towards T, T responds by reaching back, girl stretches out arms, T takes child from mother.

T with two children back on carpet area with another mother. One is a girl, the other a boy, girl seated in mother’s lap. T seated in position allowing both children to see where she is. T is kneeling down to child level. Girl is making puffed cheeks to T. T responds immediately, and returns action, girl repeats, T returns.

T is communicating with a girl saying “duck, duck…..duck, duck”, at the same time offering a large coloured cushion. T say’s “look, look, where do you want to go?”, T is supporting the balance of the girl while they move around the setting. T stops beside the girl’s mother, and say’s “oh you’re so flexible”, while making bouncy sounds, and rocking herself back and forward. Girls mother starts to sing “row , row, row your boat….”, T starts actions to support the song of rowing ya boat, girl repeat T actions.

Blog Observation Series 2 ep1

Blog Observation Series are fictional pieces of work, and form the journey of a newly qualified Playwork Assessor.

Welcome to T in Series 2

T approaches a boy, he remains standing while looking around the play space. T moves away, and collects a chair which she positions in view of the door entry to the setting, and observes other children’s movements.

A child is moving slowly on carpeted area with soft cushions. T turns her head and observes the child’s interaction with the toy from about two meters distance. The child touches the toy, T continues her observation. T moves slowly towards child, and kneels down onto carpet, T smiles and reaches hand out towards child, no verbal communication. Child H looks at T, and returns a smile and walks towards grandmother. T returns to chair.

Other users arrive and position themselves on the ground on soft padded area with large cushions and rattlers, a child is being fed by mother while she talks with three workers. A baby has remained stationary for a period, I notice that T has positioned herself to retain eye to eye with child, and has brought herself down to his level, child able to pull himself up. T offers child mirror, and has positioned it for child to view themselves. T also moves and rolls sensory bell towards child. Three more children arrive accompanied by a female adult. T removes her shoes and stands on carpet area.

H’s mother approaches T, she says that “H had his speech therapy this morning”. T enters dialogue with mother about H’s therapy progress. There are now 8 children present.

A mother is talking about her son with a staff member. She say’s “A cannot start school until he is 5 years old”. A sits on a table in front of me in a school uniform.  I ask T whether A attends the setting regularly, T says that A is 4 years old and has an older brother, possibly the uniform belongs to him. T and staff welcome all the children and female adults by their first names.

Another child D’  in a buggy arrives to setting. T is looking towards child and makes eye contact. T is retaining contact, she then walks towards child and places her hands on her cheeks and moves them in an outward motion. D looks at T, T is repeating previous action. D is laughing. T repeats action for a third time, and then performs a small star jump. D laughs out aloud, his legs and arms are now moving in various directions. I ask T about the visual interaction with D, and his response. T tells me that D has a hearing impairment, and that his response was due to him being familiar with her face.

I need space

B’s Playwork Assessor had joined us to carry out the pick up for today’s after school club session, and make some observations. We collected the infants and engaged in some light humour with the children before waiting for the juniors on the climbing structure in their playground.

A few of the children and been exploring various play opportunities on structure when M came over to join us. He began with a verbal tirade of abuse directed at N, and attempted to drag him off the climbing structure and swung  his feet in N’s direction. It became visible that N may have been in discomfort as he began to shed tears, and lifted his jumper over his head and rocked backward and forward. N was silent throughout. B comforted N by kneeling down to his eye level and offered a tissue. She then began to encourage M through conversation and communicated that it would be nice to apologise to N if it had been an accident. M appeared reluctant to apologise or acknowledge what B had said to him or his actions against N. I listened and observed with the assessor, as I had been speaking with another child and felt that B was in complete control of the situation.

During the walk over from juniors to infants M had been reluctant to put on his yellow jacket, as worn by all children during pick ups. Unlike him he refused, and said that he wasn’t in the mood, I asked if he was o.k, he responded that he was fine but not in the mood. I extended by asking if he could leave the jacket around his neck, again he stated that he wasn’t in the mood and chose to walk off away from group. I was aware where he was heading and led the remainder of group with to the hall.

On arrival he had been seated around the snack table. I chose not to extend on what had happened outside and signed the children in while they played. My observation having worked with M for a few years had been that he didn’t appear himself today, I therefore allowed him his own space to play. He later asked for the cricket to be taken out, and he proceeded to use the bat for his own varied play. I was able to observe from a distance his communication with the group who wanted to play cricket. He chose to bat miniature cars around the hall and use the Lego from the table in a similar manner. I observed that at no stage had he made verbal interaction with anyone else, this lasted for about 5 minutes. Again I chose not to intervene, as no one would have been harmed by his actions.

A few of the children had indicated that they wanted to play outside, and one of the children from reception bellowed out from their little voice box “let’s go, let’s go, let’s hit outside”. B remained inside with another playworker and her assessor. Another playworker followed us outside. M joined us and participated in the football opportunity, however appeared irritated by others ability and chose to insult and attempt to draw others into varied disputes during the game. I observed him being spoken to by one of his peers  throughout, and they appeared to be encouraging him to calm down.

The children made their own adjustment to the game, which I thought had been a positive idea. It involved ‘transferring ‘players from one team to another, in order to keep results close. This happened at their own agreed time period. I had earlier been aided to bring down loose parts from shed, and used breeze blocks stacked three high with a plank of wood across the top to form low goals. Some of the children not immediately involved in this game used the remaining loose parts with imagination.

Two year two children explained the game to us. For this game no goalie would be required, this would enable the children to move freely around the pitch. A small boundary using plastic cones had been formed, if the ball came out of area the children would roll it back in under arm. Penalties would also be taken from the middle of the pitch with the kicker allowed to take one step before striking the ball, with no goalie. There appeared to be an air of fun and appreciation of the game, with more laughter and enjoyment than I could ever have envisaged. The game lasted about an hour and had not been remotely affected by the down pour of heavy rain for about 5-10 minutes. I had made the children aware that we could remain outside regardless of the weather, many opted for this. I observed that as wet as we had become, the children made a good judgement to reduce their speed and adapted to the wet playing surface.

The time had now been around 5.30pm with only the children participating in the football outside with T and myself. I had asked T if he would take my place in game while I began to collect the equipment to be return to the shed. Having returned from the shed and turned the corner into the playground I saw numerous multi-coloured plastic cones swirling in the air coming from M’s direction and landing upon C’s head.

M’s reaction had been to turn his face and shout out some explicit adult language as colourful as the multi-coloured as the cones. C and the other children engaged in the football chose to walk away and head inside. M and one other child had now been the only children outside with T and myself. I took the opportunity to speak with M about his action in today’s session. “ I need space. I seriously need my space”

My intention was not for M to make an apology, but merely for him to reflect on how his behaviour and how it could affect the way he communicated or interacted in the future with other children. We spoke about his manner and conduct with the N and B, at the start of the session, and I elaborated that I thought it was out of character; however his actions appeared to disrupt other children’s play opportunities. M stated that he didn’t want to apologise earlier as he felt that N had been pretending to he hurt.

The nature of our conversation appeared to have allowed  him to speak with me freely, and he acknowledged why I felt it necessary to speak with him,  I  also made M aware that I felt he had let himself down today. We explored the importance of having varied day’s of behaviour, about sometimes not have to answer or justify our actions and normality to have periods where we all push boundaries.

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