Parties for play?

24 May

Bubbles LondonThe UN (2016) has been clear – and a range of evidence confirms – that the UK government needs to commit to doing more for children’s play. This should include: protecting play space through a more child-friendly planning system; supporting the country’s diminishing network of world-renowned adventure playgrounds; and adopting playwork standards for after-school and holiday care. Adrian Voce poses some questions for politicians seeking election in June.

The government has characterised its snap general election (revealing the fixed-term Parliament Act to be essentially meaningless) as the most important for decades, positioning it as an opportunity for the country to unite behind the ‘strong and stable leadership’ of Theresa May in order to give her the clear mandate she says she needs to strike the best deal with the EU in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. Labour – still by a long way the main opposition party during the last Parliament – has attempted to broaden the debate, making it about the kind of government we want, and who it is primarily for: ‘the many’ or ‘the few’.

What are play advocates to make of the different approaches of these and the other parties fielding credible candidates? Who is likely to be the most sympathetic to the case for play policy? Children and their families have the right to a safe, playable, child-friendly public realm – something that was promised to them 10 years ago (DCSF, 2008) only to be abandoned in the wake of the financial crisis. Play advocates not willing to accept the current dearth of play policy as the status quo should be asking the parties vying for parents’ votes some questions about their intentions for play.

What is your party’s policy on children’s right to play?

Play Strategy cover2The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has issued a general comment (2013) on states’ obligations under Article 31 of its 1989 convention. This makes clear that children’s right to play must be ‘recognised, protected and fulfilled’ for them by government policy, which should include planning, finance and legislation as necessary. Yet, in 2016, the UNCRC reported its ‘concern about the withdrawal of a play policy in England and the under-funding of play’ across the UK. This followed The Children’s Rights Alliance for England reporting to the UNCRC that since 2010 the UK government had in fact ‘undermined children’s rights under Article 31 …’

The government should now, at the very least, be monitoring the effectiveness and the impact of the statutory play sufficiency duty in Wales to explore its potential for replication in England. A full commitment to article 31 would involve following the recommendation of the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood to reintroduce a cross-cutting national play strategy like the one for England that was abandoned in 2010.

What plans do you have to enable children to enjoy the freedom to play outside in the public spaces near their homes?

There has been an accumulation of evidence in recent years and decades, of the changing nature of modern childhoods, with many children no longer having the freedom to play outside that previous generations could take for granted. The reasons for this are varied and complex, with traffic, anxiety about ‘stranger-danger’, fear of crime and bullying, commercialisation of pubic space, overly structured out-of-school lives, poor planning, and the lure of electronic media each being cited as the cause of a generation of ‘battery-reared children’.

Whatever the combination of reasons, there is no doubt that, to reverse this trend – a profound change in the way that children grow up, with consequences that we cannot yet fully perceive – will take a concerted and cohesive effort, coordinated within a number of different public policy domains, and informed by a clear vision and strong commitment to a playable, liveable, child-friendly public realm.

What plans do you have to protect the UKs valuable network of staffed adventure playgrounds and other community play projects?

IMG_2314With play infrastructure bodies like Play England and the playwork unit at Skillsactive being among the first casualties of ‘deficit reduction’, it is difficult to gain a full picture of spending on play since the end of the Play Strategy (2008-10), but there is no question that children’s play services have been a major victim of austerity. Various surveys have showed cuts of up to 100 per cent in local authority play budgets, and an average reduction of more than 50 per cent from 2010-15. Play academic Wendy Russell estimates that there are now fewer than 150 adventure playgrounds remaining, with many of these still facing cuts.

What would your government do to maintain standards in after-school and holiday play schemes so that children are supported to enjoy their leisure time and not effectively forced to endure 8-10 hour school days?

Children should be able to play freely after school in whatever environment they find themselves. Playwork is the only profession dedicated to this, but the deregulation of extended services and out-of-school provision for children aged 8 and over means that it is no longer recognised, let alone required by inspectors, who therefore apply school performance criteria to a domain that should be for children’s play. School-aged childcare, after-school clubs and ‘extended services’ should contain a basic offer of playwork provision, appropriately staffed by qualified practitioners; and should also provide enriched play environments, including a requirement for outdoor space, as identified by good playwork practice.

Adrian Voce

Adrian Voce is the author of Policy for Play (Policy Press, 2015)


A synthesis of these questions has been addressed to each of the main parties in the election. We will publish any replies here; and also, over the remaining days of the campaign, examine each of the parties’ manifestos for any signs of an emergent play policy, as well as considering the wider question of their position on children’s rights in general.


References 

CRC, 2016, Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Department for Schools and Families, 2008, The Play Strategy, London: Crown Copyright.


Main photo: Nate Edwards
Inset photo: Adrian Voce
Play Strategy image: HM Government

Scottish Parliament debates national play charter

16 Mar

Edinburgh children play

The Scottish Parliament has debated the country’s first Play Charter, developed and promoted by Play Scotland, the national play charity. Adrian Voce reports.

A motion to support Scotland’s first Play Charter, developed by Play Scotland, was debated in the Scottish Parliament on 14 March 2017. It was proposed by Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Ruth Maguire of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

The motion (paraphrased) said that:

‘Parliament welcomes the promotion of Scotland’s first inclusive Play Charter by Play Scotland … understands that the charter describes a collective commitment to play for all babies, children and young people in Scotland, in line with the right of children to play as set in out in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

‘(Parliament) further understands that the charter builds on the Scottish Government’s National Play Strategy … notes the charter’s aims of highlighting that every child has the right to play … ensuring that a commitment to play is more strongly embedded within policies, strategies, key qualifications and … training, ensuring that children and young people are supported in their right to play and that play spaces are valued within communities…’

The motion also encouraged all SMPs to become ‘Play Champions’ by pledging their support to the charter.

‘Not built to sit still’

The debate included a contribution from Conservative SMP Brian Whittle, who said:

“Children are not built to sit still … that brings us to the importance of active play—especially in the early years. As I have said before, youngsters want to move about a lot with their peers. In doing so, they set patterns for life and learn interaction skills, confidence, resilience, self-awareness and awareness of others—all behaviours that are much more difficult to learn sitting still in a nursery or classroom …

“We have not got that right yet. We need to consider how we give every child the opportunity for outdoor and indoor play: climbing, jumping—in puddles, if necessary—falling down, getting back up, catching, throwing and all the other ways that they can invent to learn in their own ways. That is the blueprint for life. That is how we tackle preventable ill health and stack the cards in our favour.

“That all starts with access to active play, and with the premise that it is every child’s right to play with their friends, get dirty, be noisy and be sociable, irrespective of background or personal circumstances—all the things that we took for granted when we were kids. In my view, that is the basis of solving many of the problems that we see in our society today”.

‘Open schools during summer holiays’

Labour’s Daniel Johnson said that, although the play strategy is right:

“We also need to set out the challenges. One in six children in Scotland does not have access to outdoor space, 85 per cent of children in Scotland say that they do not spend enough time engaged in free play, and more than 1,000 Scottish schools have no access to outdoor facilities … we need talk about local services and the impact of local funding.

“We must have some innovation. Schemes such as playing out will come at little cost to local government. We should consider whether we should be opening our schools during summer holidays in order to enable play and to address issues of childcare in the holidays. We also need to talk about local services. If we are to have accessible and stimulating parks in which our children can play, that requires investment in local services”.

Speaking for the Scottish Government, Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald MSP, said:

“The Government continues to invest in play and, this year alone, we have invested more than £3 million in it. That includes funding of £700,000 for Play, Talk, Read, £1.6 million for the book-bug programme and £260,000 for Play Scotland, plus a host of other fantastic initiatives.

‘Giving parents peace of mind’

“Since 2012, we have invested more than £3 million in Inspiring Scotland’s go2play play ranger fund. The fund supports Scottish charities to develop play ranger provision for vulnerable children and disadvantaged groups and to engage them in active outdoor play. Play rangers provide a huge number of benefits not only for our children but for parents and communities, by enabling children to play in spaces that are familiar to them, such as their street or local park, while giving parents peace of mind and encouraging positive interaction between children and the wider community”.

The minister thanked Play Scotland and the play strategy implementation group for working with the government “to create and enhance the fundamental building blocks that will enable and inform a more playful Scotland in which children can realise their right to play every day” He welcomed the play charter, saying “it will help us to further embed the principles of the play strategy, and … encourage us to commit to play as an essential ingredient of children’s wellbeing”.

Adrian Voce

Photo: Dov Rob


Read Scotland’s Play Charter here
Read the full Scottish Parliament debate on the Play Charter here

Space to Play symposium

15 Mar
Adrian Voce OBE will lead a symposium on children’s play, with artist Mark Neville, at the Foundling Museum in central London on 20 March 2017

The importance of time and space for children to play is established across a range of scientific disciplines, with a child’s right to play recognised in international law. Yet play is rarely a priority for government, planners or developers. Public spaces are increasingly privatised, and in the age of austerity, the play projects and services that bridge this deficit, such as adventure playgrounds, are often first in line for closure. As part of Child’s Play, this symposium explores how we provide for this universal right, asks why space to play is not better protected within the public realm, and considers what can or should be done to afford all children the space to play. The day will include a tour of the exhibition, led by Mark Neville, revealing the stories behind his work.

Speakers and papers include:

  • Play, Politics and the Right to the City, Dr. Wendy Russell, University of Gloucester
  • Making Space for Childhood, Maisie Rowe, Space for Childhood
  • The Subversive Potentials of Play and Art: challenging disciplinarian and austere horizons, Lucy Benson, Islington Play Association
  • The Invisible Barrier Beyond the Front Door: traffic’s impact on children’s play, belonging and social life in the streets where they live, Alice Ferguson, Playing Out
  • Stop Play Pause, Jack James, South London Gallery and Betsy Dadd & Lydia CS, Kaleidoworks
  • Secure Places, Secure Spaces, and Secure Faces: attachment at the heart of play, Mark Coulson and Andrea Oskis, Middlesex University
  • Shirley Baker: an abundance of children (with the occasional woman and man), Anna Douglas, University of Leeds
  • The Value of Investing in Our Children, Marion Briggs, Alliance for Childhood

Adrian Voce is the author of Policy for Play (Policy Press, 2015) and President of the European Network for Child-friendly Cities. After a long career as a playworker, he was the first Director of London Play (1998-2004), securing policy commitments for children’s play from the London Mayor. As Director of the Children’s Play Council and then Play England (2004-2011) he was key in securing almost £350m of public funding for children’s play. He has produced a number of influential publications and appeared often in the national media speaking and writing about play policy. He was awarded an OBE for services to children in 2011.

Mark Neville is a British artist who has had solo exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum and the Photographers’ Gallery. He works at the intersection of art and documentary, investigating the social function of photography. His photographic projects to date have frequently made the communities he portrays the primary audience for the work. In 2012 the Andy Warhol Museum exhibited a body of newly commissioned photographic works by Neville which focused upon issues of race and the legacy of the steel industry in Pittsburgh. In the same year The New York Times Magazine commissioned Neville to make the critically acclaimed photo essay Here Is London, which they subsequently nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.


Space to Play – a symposium

The Foundling Museum
40 Brunswick Square
London WC1N 1AZ
20 March 2017
9:30 – 16:30
Tickets £20 (£15 concessions & Foundling Friends)
To book a place, please click here

The Foundling Museum is a registered charity and all income from ticket sales supports its work.

Withdrawing qualifications is another blow to playwork

14 Mar

Play England has reported that CACHE (Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education) has closed its Level 2 Award and Certificate, Level 3 Award and Level 4 Award and Certificate qualifications to new registrations. The other main awarding organisation, City and Guilds are also now only open for registrations of full Diplomas at levels 2, 3, and 5, although they are still offering the Level 4 Award. All of these qualifications, for both awarding organisations, are only available for registration until November 2017.

According to Play England, these qualifications, vital to the growth of a professional playwork sector for two decades, no longer fit within the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) that replaced the former Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) under the Coalition Government.

Under the RQF, the ‘stepping stone’ awards and certificates, which could previously lead incrementally to full diplomas via the credit system, is being phased out. Thus, when existing qualifications come up for renewal, unless they are suitable for conversion to the new framework they are being withdraw, in spite of many playworkers and their employers preferring the modular approach.

Prospects

But the prospects of playwork in England adapting to this new context are affected by a funding squeeze. With registrations for playwork qualifications declining because of a dearth of available finance, awarding organisations are finding it harder to make the business case for the development of new ones. At a roundtable meeting at the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne last week, co-hosted by Play England and the Playwork Foundation, it was agreed to lobby CACHE and City and Guilds, to extend registration of the level 2, 3 and 5 qualifications beyond the end of the current year. The two organisations have written to the awarding bodies and are encouraging playwork trainers and employers to do the same.

Nicola Butler, chair of Play England, says: ‘Playwork is a highly skilled job. Parents, playworkers and employers all want the playwork profession to have the training that is needed for the job, but while most playwork employers would like to be able to invest more in professional development of their workforce but are prevented from doing so by the lack of public funding’.

So what are the reasons for this decline in the playwork sector after so many years of growth? One factor is the partial de-regulation of the school-age play and childcare sector. Since September 2014, there has been no statutory requirement for out-of-school clubs and holiday play-schemes to employ staff with ‘full and relevant’ childcare or playwork qualifications. (Over-8s and open-access providers have never been required to register).

Cuts

At least as significant as the change in regulatory requirements has been the effect of cuts to local authority play services, which in many places have been withdrawn altogether.  A 2014 report showed that capital and revenue spending on children’s play by England’s local authorities from 2010-13 fell by 50% and 61% respectively and it is clear that deep cuts have continued.

Many believe that playwork is now in something of an existential crisis, certainly in England. 10 years ago, the first phase of a 10-year national play strategy included funding to qualify 4,000 playworkers and a new graduate level qualification for playwork managers. Since then, the government has, according to the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, ‘undermined’ children’s right to play by abandoning the play strategy and not having a minister with responsibility for play policy for the first time since the 1980s; a situation that remains, in spite of the calls for a wide ranging national play policy by an All Party Parliamentary Group on children’s health in 2015.

What does all this mean for children? Most obviously, vital play services such as staffed adventure playgrounds (where playwork originated) are being closed. In some places these are being replaced with fixed equipment play areas, as in Watford; in others, such as Battersea Park, children can now indulge in ‘tree-top adventures’ for between £20 – £38 a session, where they used to play for free on structures that they had helped to build. Wendy Russell of the University of Gloucestershire estimates there only 150 traditional adventure playgrounds remaining in Britain, compared to around 500 at their peak; and with the erosion of playwork training and the on-gong pressures on funding, she has called those that remain an ‘endangered species’.

Extended schools

Less apparently, but perhaps even more significantly (certainly for larger numbers of children) the removal of a requirement for qualified staff means that children attending after-school and holiday play services – not voluntarily, let’s remember, but because their parents need to work – are now much more likely to be supervised either by classroom assistants or staff with no training at all; often on school premises.

When Labour introduced the concept of ‘wrap-around’ services as a key development of its ‘childcare revolution’, it was quick to distance itself from the term ‘extended schools’; but what the abandonment of playwork practice as the benchmark for quality in out-of-school provision means for many children, is that they are now effectively in school for up to 10 hours a day.


 A New Playwork Apprenticeship

The one area of potential growth for the playwork training sector is apprenticeships. The government is introducing an Apprenticeship Levy, although most small centres are not eligible for this funding unless subcontracted by larger providers. On this point, the Playwork Foundation is concerned that a high proportion of the few larger centres offering playwork apprenticeships employ trainers and assessors who are ‘not occupationally competent’.

A group of playwork employers has submitted an expression of interest to develop a new Playwork Trailblazer apprenticeship, which aims to: enable employers to access playwork apprenticeships; clarify what they should cover; develop the skills needed for quality playwork provision; and reinforce that they need to be delivered by trainers and assessors fully competent in playwork.

Adrian Voce

An edited version of this article was published in Children and Young People Now on 14 March 2017

This article is about playwork qualifications in England. For an overview of the situation in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales read this

Playwork body warns of fragmentation of training and qualifications

15 Feb

img_3780

The Playwork Foundation has warned that changes to the regulatory framework and a steep decline in play services have led to a fragmented landscape for playwork training and qualifications in the UK. The new body, an independent advocate for playwork and playworkers, has produced a briefing paper that aims to clarify the picture in each of the four UK nations. It warns that, ‘despite the needs and wishes of the playwork sector – playworkers, playwork employers and commissioners – for trained and qualified staff, there is now very little funding for playwork qualifications’.

A discussion about the problems facing the playwork training sector – and playworkers seeking qualification – will be hosted by Play England at this year’s National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne on 7-8 March.

Adventure playgrounds are too important to consign to history

8 Feb

Eran at Glamis

A variety of recent projects in the arts, heritage and academic sectors have taken adventure playgrounds as their theme, bringing welcome attention to this important part of the UK play scene. However, cautions Adrian Voce, it would be a mistake, and a missed opportunity, if the surge of interest were to be predominantly nostalgic or historical.

Over the last year or so, adventure playgrounds in the UK seem to have become the subject of wider than usual attention far beyond the usual play and playwork sectors. In truth, this swell of interest is around an accumulation of separate projects and initiatives, which have each either come to fruition or been launched, with attendant publicity, around the same time.

Perhaps the most high profile of these, certainly in terms of popular culture, is no less than a brand new stage musical. The Lockleaze adventure playground in Bristol, known locally simply as ‘The Vench’, is both the subject and the setting for an original new comedy-musical, described by the Bristol Post as ‘a wildly funny and vivid new production about a miscreant group of Bristolian misfit teenagers who come together to build an adventure playground’. Junkyard will open on 24 February at Bristol’s Old Vic theatre.

Sharing memories

The Vench was also one of a number of adventure playgrounds in the West of England cities of Bristol and Gloucester, recently mined by researchers for the memories that they have inspired and bequeathed to their local communities. Sharing Memories of Adventure Playgrounds (SMAP) was a research project of the University of Gloucestershire that beautifully conveyed, through an exhibition, a film and a short report, the unique role that places like the Vench can play in the lives of successive generations of communities, and the value they hold for neighbourhoods where there may not otherwise be much that children can call their own.

Elsewhere in England, researchers and curators at the Queen Mary, University of London and the V&A’s Museum of Childhood respectively are also collaborating on an exciting new initiative on the social history of London’s adventure playgrounds. Adventures in the City: the politics and practice of children’s adventure play in urban Britain, 1955–97 is a funded PhD project that began last year and will culminate in a new, interactive, permanent exhibition (an adventure playground, one presumes – as much as such a thing is possible within this context) at the museum’s popular Bethnal Green site in East London.

One hears of other doctorates that have identified adventure playgrounds and their history as a subject ripe for researching (e.g. Shelly Newstead’s paper at Child in the City 2014). There are other artistic ventures too. Mark Neville’s recently opened exhibition of photographs on the theme of ‘Child’s Play’ chooses adventure playgrounds as the setting for what it describes as ‘play in free space’. Neville juxtaposes his commanding images of children very much taking their space in some of London’s adventure playgrounds with those of children in less sympathetic contexts: the ‘structured space’ of school, and the ‘oppressed space’ of war and poverty.

‘Fulfilling childhood’

2015 saw the release of a short documentary film by Erin Davis ‘about the nature of play, risk and hazard’ set in The Land, an adventure playground in North Wales. ‘The Land’, as the documentary is also called, was described by Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic as a film that ‘will change everything you think you believe … In scene after natural scene the truth becomes obvious: With a little bit of creativity, empathy and guidance, children can be freed to experience a much more fun, adventurous and fulfilling childhood.’

This kind of exposure and recognition for a form of provision that perennially struggles on meagre budgets and – with some rare exceptions – little support from their local authorities, can only be welcome. It is important too, that both academia and the heritage sector are taking adventure playgrounds seriously as the subject of research and cultural archive.

Nevertheless, play advocates may also feel a little uneasy that so much of this attention is from an historical perspective. It is more than implied in this approach that adventure playgrounds today, if not quite anachronistic, are certainly an ‘endangered species’, as Dr. Wendy Russell acknowledged at the launch of the SMAP project last month. She estimates that there are no more than 150 remaining in the UK – and that not all of these are necessarily adventure playgrounds in the original sense of the term – compared to more than 500 in their 70s heyday.

Sense of community

Exploring the reason for this decline needs an article (or a PhD!) all to itself, but as Mark Neville’s exhibition and its accompanying book assert, Erin Davis’ film so eloquently conveys and the children past and present of Bristol and Gloucester’s adventure playgrounds say for themselves, the supported space to play – with materials large and small, with the elements, and with the full spectrum of human curiosity, invention, and interaction, protected from the future focused, outcomes-obsessed world of adult-laid plans and rules for them – and the unique experience of community that is given to children in a proper adventure playground, is too vital to be merely a museum piece.

We must hope, rather, that exhibiting adventure playgrounds, researching their history, and celebrating them through the arts will alert a new generation of advocates, policymakers and funders to their unique value to children and communities now.

Adrian Voce

Photo: Eran at Glamis Adventure Playground by Adrian Voce

Adrian Voce succeeds Jan van Gils as child-friendly city network president

14 Dec

re-posted from childinthecity.eu

The English writer and campaigner Adrian Voce OBE has been elected to succeed Jan van Gils PhD, as President of the European Network for Child Friendly Cities (ENCFC). Dr. Van Gils announced his retirement from the role that he has filled for more than 14 years at the conclusion of the 8th biennial event, held in Ghent, Belgium in November.

Jan van Gilsjanvangils-230x230 was the founder of the ENCFC and inaugurated the Child in the City conference in Bruges, Belgium in 2002. Under his leadership, the network and the conference have grown in popularity and influence. Produced every two years in a different European city by a partnership of the ENCFC and the Child in the City Foundation, the conference has become a fixture for children’s rights advocates, academics, practitioners and policy-makers working for more child friendly towns and cities around the world.

Warm tributes were paid by the conference in Ghent to the immensely popular Van Gils, who is a Doctor in Pedagogic Sciences, author of several books and was the director of the Research Centre for Childhood and Society in Belgium, as well as being also President of the International Council for Children’s Play. He was described by the Chair of the Child in the City Foundation, Johan Haarhuis, as ‘a great man to work with; incredibly generous with his time and inspiring with his vision’. His successor, Adrian Voce, speaking on behalf of the whole network, said that Dr Van Gils would be ‘a very tough act to follow’ who had ‘given more to the movement for children-friendly approaches to planning and managing our towns and cites than anyone will ever know’.

img_2061Adrian Voce, who has taken on the role of President for an initial two years, is a former playworker, trainer, special needs assistant and residential social worker who became the first director of London Play in 1998 and then the founding director of Play England in 2006. He is the author of Policy for Play: responding to children’s forgotten right, which documents the story of the play strategy for England of 2008-11 and the influencing and campaigning work that led to it. He played a key role in securing London as the host city for the second Child in the City conference in London in 2004 and has been a member of the ENCFC steering group since 2012.

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