Adrian Voce suggests that the new ‘Play Ethic’ should get first things first and challenge the government’s wellbeing agenda to start with children’s play.
There is an interesting two-day conference in London next week, which seems to be aimed at taking on and progressing the wellbeing agenda from the perspective of a new ‘play ethic’ – to inform and progress a new way of working that fosters creativity and innovation and perhaps, therefore, leads to a new and more sustainable economics. It is called Play’s the Thing. But don’t get too excited – children’s play doesn’t seem to feature.
One of the organisers, Pat Kane (the Play Ethic) wrote about the conference themes in the Guardian this week and asserts the importance of fostering cooperation, innovation and creativity, not as touchy-feely ideals, but necessary components of more sustainable, people-centred business and economic models. But Although Kane is right to reject the knee-jerk dismissal of the wellbeing agenda, and for all his welcome exposition of a play ethic, he and the other conference organisers appear to be missing one obvious and primary point.
This government has quietly torn up a ten-year plan to create more space for play in the lives of our citizens who need it most: children. Kane makes no reference to the abandoned Play Strategy, nor indeed to children’s play at all. Neither do there appear to be any contributors to the conference from the fields of playwork, play therapy or children’s geographies.
This looks like an opportunity lost. Without a rebalancing of priorities in child policy, which is now dominated more than ever by narrowly defined notions of old school education and how it is delivered, the play ethic risks remaining a talking point, or at best a more enjoyable way to work for a cultural and intellectual elite. The true value of play for our culture and our society will only begin to be realised with the reinstatement of opportunities to play at the centre of all children’s lives, including the way they are educated and cared for.
The Play Strategy began to do this, and so a robust dialogue with this Government’s wellbeing agenda should start with the simple question: what, David Cameron, is your government doing about the steady erosion of children’s freedom to play?