Let them play

Updated: Mar 30

Recently a friend Angus Gorrie, a Playworker with a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences, had been posting on social media about his research in ‘Playwork’ and ‘Junkyard Playgrounds’ - sparking my interest in what this was exactly. It was around the same time that I had read “The Danish Way of Parenting” (Sandahl & Alexander, 2014). The parallel theories and origins of raising resilient and confident children in both mediums made me very curious. I wanted to understand how play was being analysed differently, and discovered - without too much digging - that there was a whole world of research papers, educator blogs, Play-workers and PhDs in ‘Playwork’.

The premise of this research and the book are both one and the same – concern regarding the decline in children and adolescents’ mental health in the developed world and a shift to relinquish adult-driven agendas and activities that enable independent and free play for children. This has been what I consider a critical message for myself as a parent to understand the current trajectory and also a fascinating insight into the magic of children’s culture.

I interviewed my friend, Gorrie, and learnt a great deal more about the nature of ‘Playwork’ and what it meant, and I discovered interestingly that most of the literature referenced was directed at educators and teachers. Why don’t more parents know about this?

Famous British researchers in children’s folklore and language, Peter Opie and Iona Opie so cleverly observed in one of their many publications:

Possibly because it is more difficult to find out about, let alone understand, we largely ignore the child-to-child complex, scarcely realising that however much children need looking after they are also people going about their own business within their own society, and are fully capable of occupying themselves under the jurisdiction of their own code.

(Opie & Opie, 1969).

Redefining Play

In my interview with Gorrie, he mused that play is viewed by our society as what happens when the important activities are not occurring. He says play is not the product but the motivation and can often be red-faced with gritted-teeth, hard, frustrating and not all smiles and happy as most of us generally view children’s play to be. The evolutionary and developmental importance of play is such that it is comparable to necessary milestones for survival such as walking and talking.