As you now likely know, my colleagues and I at The Lion and The Mouse have trained as Playworkers, finding inspiration from the Playwork Principles and general ethos of Playwork in our day to day to work and through larger events such as Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds.
Keeping a small journal of my own play experiences has made me much more mindful and present in my work (and play!) with children. And it has in fact, as well, made me much more present in my own life as something which is in large part a product of my own creativity.
Lately, because of the nature of my work with some of the children I am with regularly, I’ve been journaling a lot about the kind of play I used to engage in as a kid with my cousin – which was similar to the play of a lot of these children.
When I was a child my cousin Ian and I were great climbers. Ian was always more skilled than me but I tried to keep up. We began climbing everything from buildings to trees to sign posts when we were younger than ten years old, and then by the time we were ten and older we began not only climbing tall objects but also jumping off them. Ian used to climb on the roofs of cabins at a national park in Ontario we used to go to with our family, and jump off. I was always scared to follow him in this. Finally, he instructed me in terms of how to do a proper landing, keeping knees loose and arms prepared to soften the fall as falling into a crouching position.
Eventually, I felt (nervously) prepared to jump from some of these rooftops with him, and so I began doing so! I felt invigorated beforehand, in spite of my fear, and felt the need to take this risk because Ian and I both had entertained dreams of becoming ‘stuntmen’ when we were adults, and I knew this would be an important part of my training for the movies! The consequence of having successfully and relatively painlessly landed this first jump of mine was that I wanted to try doing this again and again, jumping from higher and higher places. After eventually spraining my ankle jumping from a rooftop in a local park, I realized that I just wasn’t as gifted as my cousin (or perhaps lucky) when it came to jumping. After this, the nature of our game and fantasy changed to have it that so that we were training to be an action film-making team wherein I would be the action director and Ian would be the lead actor and stuntman. The game in various ways continued until we were probably 13 or 14.
An important part of working with children in a playful capacity for me has always been to recognize an analogy between creativity and play. It is necessary to be in touch with the deeply imaginative and largely instinctual landscape of play that you have within yourself, and which you have in large part carried with you from childhood (even as to some extent its nature may have changed). As a child you were probably more permitted (at the best of times, at least) to play-out your deeper fantasies, desires, and preoccupations. In taking stock of my childhood play, I can see that lot of the play from my own childhood was a mix of Rough and Tumble Play, Deep Play, and Fantasy Play – amongst others.
How did you play as a child? What does this say about who you are, where you come from, and who you might want to be?
What are some of your most euphoric memories you have of yourself at play as a child? Who did you imagine yourself to be? What dreams and visions were yours? Think about your physicality, what you loved to hear and/or see, smell, taste, touch. Be sensual, imaginative, emotional and intellectual. Know yourself both as animal and as someone who seeks to be uniquely human.
It’s important to be able to conjure up the creative source of your own play, as an adult, which often involves reassessing and conjuring up childhood memories such as these. Among other things we can learn so much about ourselves, our desires, our strengths and weaknesses, through taking stock of some of the particulars of our childhood play.
Taking stock of the capacities, imaginings, desires, and preoccupations that are associated with your own play instinct may be what allows you to embody the ethos of Playworker – as they say, #playworkersgottaplay! The split between your rational adult self and your own deep playfulness needs to weaken substantially. Playwork is both play and work in the sense that you must sometimes engage in play as deeply as the children you are with, and sometimes you must be an adult who either intervenes appropriately or who stays of to the side and observes.
When I play rough with children – and indeed I’m almost always singled out, usually without even saying or doing anything to insight it, as being the adult in the situation who’s most into rough and tumble play – I think of the endless Kung Fu movies I watched as a kid, of martial arts lessons, of playing as offensive lineman on my high school football team, and indeed of all the stunts my cousin Ian and I attempted. I access all these fixed points of meaning in my play, when I’m roughhousing or doing stunts or fighting off evil doers with my youngest friends. There are both real and imaginary dangers my young friends and I face; there are legitimate risks we take which may or may not include an element of fantasy; and there are endless new or different selves we create in our play.
In journaling about my own play (work) I’m able to remind myself of my own play, whether when playing or composing music, having lively conversations with friends, being involved in sports, and with so much more, from the perspective of play. Creativity comes from the play instinct, after all.