Somewhat related to my last post is this extensive guidelines document written by Robin C. Moore. It’s worth poking around in here for advice from a widely respected natural play advocate. I haven’t read through it all myself, yet, but it’s on my to-do list. Read along with me if you like!
I’m not sure what’s stranger, that I wound up attending school in a town with FOUR playground design firms, an adventure playground, and an annual play symposium, or that I discovered my obsession with designing for play independently of knowing that these resources existed. Regardless, here I am amongst stars and heroic play advocates. I’ll be attending (and volunteering at) the aforementioned Play Symposium tomorrow and Saturday, and will surely gain some new insights into the world of play as the bigfolk facilitate it.
I’ll be meeting with Rusty Keeler again, as well as Erin Davis, Morgan Leichter-Saxby, Suzanna Law, and others – So I am stoked! Any insights or breakthroughs I do intend to share.
The schedule goes something like this:
- 8:30 Coffee & Bagels, Check-in
- 9:00 Welcome / A Culture of Play at Ithaca Children’s Garden
Erin Marteal, Executive Director
- 9:45 Fits and Starts and Garbage Piles
Erica Larsen-Dockray & Jeremiah Dockray, Santa Clarita Valley Adv. Play
- 10:30 PlayCorps – Adventure Play in Providence Public Parks
Janice O’Donnell, Partnership for Providence Parks
- 11:10 Play Break
- 11:30 Pecha Kucha
Designing Anarchy – Alex Cote, Ithaca Children’s Garden
Our Playground – Jill Wood & the Kids of Adventure Playground,
The Parish School
Learning to Playwork – Suzanna Law, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Rebuilding the American Dream…Through Play – Tricia O’Conner,
Lake Erie Adventure Play (LEAP)
- 12:15 Lunch Break and Conversation
- 1:15 Playwork in Practice
Morgan Leichter-Saxby, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Suzanna Law, Pop-Up Adventure Play
- 2:15 Play Break
- 2:45 Let’s Talk – What are your burning questions?
Morgan and Suzanna, Pop-Up Adventure Play
- 3:45 Saturday Preview & Reminders
- 4:00 Off you go for exploring, relaxation, and dinner
- 7:00 The Land and Panel Discussion at Cinemapolis:
Erin Davis, Director
Joan Almon, Alliance for Childhood
Morgan Leichter-Saxby, Pop-Up Adventure Play
- 8:45 Coffee & Bagels, Check-in
- 9:00 Welcome to Day 2
Erin Marteal, Executive Director
- 9:10 Inspiring Places for Play (and Ruckus)
Rusty Keeler, Earthplay & Hands-on-Nature Anarchy Zone
- 10:00 Troubling the Spatial Politics of Adventure Playground Funding
Reilly Wilson, CUNY
- 10:40 Play Break
- 11:00 Pecha Kucha
Time to Move: Salutogenic Environments for All – Beth Myers, Cornell University
Little Creatures Seek & Find, Kristin Eno – Little Creatures Films
US Fish & Wildlife Service – Adventure Playground? – David Stillwell, USFWS
Embodiment, Ethnography & Reflective Playwork – Morgan Leichter-Saxby,
Pop-Up Adventure Play
- 11:45 Home Action Plan Workshop
- 12:15 Lunch and Conversation
- 1:15 Walk to Ithaca Children’s Garden
- 1:30 Visit, Explore, & Play
Ithaca Children’s Garden staff and partners
- 3:30 Closing Circle
- 4:00 Adjourn – Thank you for sharing your time with us!
“Every playscape built should be unique, depending on the philosophy of the school, the skills and talents of the community, and the landscape of the local area… It doesn’t matter how expensive or fancy your ingredients are. What is most important is that you provide children the opportunity to experience each ingredient.”
As I write this, I am in the process of assembling a bibliography from the mountains of text I’ve been surveying. As I mine these metaphorical ranges, I’ll be posting any veins of wisdom I think might be instructive. In the meantime, here’s a nice set of resources for your consideration, all available for free as PDFs. When you’re done there, here’s another set!
Publications Available at These Sites Include:
Design for Play; Managing Risk in Play Provision; Nature Play; Growing Adventure; Design Guidance for Play Spaces; Rope Swings, Dens, Treehouses and Fires; Making Sense: Playwork in Practice; Play as Culture; Play at School; Best Play: What Play Provision Should Do for Children; Places for Play
Once upon a Central Park, 1969, Richard Dattner of Dattner Architects set forth a manifesto called ‘Design for Play.’ Not long ago, I posted similar sentiments that as designers we are beholden to the imperative to design for play – not how to play. Dattner’s book of the same substance is one I am currently pouring over. Dattner’s words have coaxed forth numerous questions in me concerning the essence and meaning of play.
A recent professor of mine, to whom I owe a great many things – not least of which the inspiration and encouragement to pursue the design of ludic environments – used to run an exercise with our class on definitions of key words and concepts. Rather than regurgitate the (albeit considered) dictionary’s laundry list of popular uses, he recognized the process underlying the construction of definitions: experience. A friend of mine once described dictionaries as historical documents useful as starting points, but not to be referenced as instruction manuals. The importance of experience in defining anything is fundamental and essential. The exercise our professor ran us through was not unlike the exercises I imagine dictionary authors must also engage in.
With a concept like play, simple definitions are contentious and its philosophical variations rather divided. Dattner attempts a definition of play in his first chapter, and outlines his philosophy of it immediately. For him, work and play are opposite ends of a dichotomy. He writes that it is the ‘reason’ for acting, rather than the ‘activity’ itself, that determines whether someone is working or playing. This is one philosophy of play which I think is important to earmark, because I encounter it often.
In his elaborations of this philosophy I found that Dattner defined and redefined play frequently. In the spirit of my former professor’s exercises I challenged myself to indulge the author’s philosophy and play at extracting his definitions of play. In this way, I took on the role of my professor, observing and recording, and Dattner became my subject positing his experience as definition. Here are Dattner’s definitions of play, extracted for you from his chapter on the philosophy of play:
- supremely voluntary
- doing what you want to do when you want to do it
- a manifestation of internal needs and wishes
- a necessity we require of ourselves
- a full expression of personal freedom
- exercise or action for amusement
- freedom, room or scope for action
- similar to magic
- a process of mastering
- concerned with the achievement of goals
- about process not product
- its own reward
- freedom or abstinence from work
- re-creation of ourselves
- engaging in freely chosen activities that restore our sense of completeness
- impossible to “do” – it is an end in itself
- a manifestation of choice; [choice manifestation]
Dattner also briefly defines what play is not.
Play is not:
- professional athletics
- bound by reality
- deprived of freedom of action or expression
- restricted or hampered
Reading this chapter certainly fanned the flames of my pursuit of play theories, and had me filling the margins with notes. Rather than agreeing or disagreeing with Dattner, I observe that these are some of the many definitions and negative definitions of play, and hope to discover many more from you and other readings.
If this post had you considering your own definitions of play I encourage you to post your thoughts below. I also gratefully welcome recommendations for further reading.
“Work can be forced, but play, like love, is a supremely voluntary undertaking.”
I have some heartening news to share for playphiles everywhere – a Lego Professorship has been announced at Cambridge University. What a brilliant idea! I’m excited to see academia so excited about the importance of play. I just wish I were further along in my studies so that I could apply. Perhaps one day.
“Play is the highest form of research”
I stumbled on this today and thought it was worth archiving and sharing.
Cooperate or compete – a dichotomous key in the Tree of All Games. Having little desire in my heart to prove myself against others, preferring instead to celebrate the accomplishments of my companions, I’ve had nothing but love for the cooperative game for as long as memory serves. Beyond taste or preference, I believe this is due to a deeper compulsion. The cooperative game, I put it to you, is a higher form of play, predicated by its lesser, necessary ancestor: survival. In cooperation we all succeed or fail as one, beauty of being in either consequence. It is a subversion of the instinctual mechanism of self-congratulatory egoism and dominance. In it, we may observe all the striven-for virtues of humankind without need of heroism and vilification. Compassion, selflessness, devotion, courage, empathy, modesty, patience, respect, thankfulness, humility, understanding, unity, compassion, kindness, generosity, forgiveness – as if on the cooperative compass floats a needle that avoids the magnetic poles to point true north.
In competition, we sate our pangs for success by equating it to overcoming others, to besting our brethren. There are winners and so must there be losers – heroes and villains – the righteous and the unworthy. The price of personal success: another’s failure. Balanced at the surface, akimbo at its core, playing against each other sows some insidious vices. Defeated, we may punish ourselves and submit to indentured inferiority. Enraged, we may retaliate and trade reason for blindness. Pedestaled, we may begin to believe in our own divinity, making idols of ourselves. Exalted, we cast shadows over others in oppressive indifference. Fun, that riotous celebration of life, is not in the winning. Fun is playing together. It resides in the process, not in the end points of agency.
In cooperation, we play against the game itself. Its virtual rules challenge us to best it, to overcome indifference and unite in strategy and force. It is a barn raising. It is a dead lift that is as light as a feather. It is a society post-privilege. In cooperative games the weak link is not a single person but a failure to unite – together we are not a weighted chain of snapping links, but a gravity made stronger by every union. When it is time to cast our paper balls at the rubbish bin, those in front control the turn of the key in the Tree of All Games; turn it backward to win against those behind – or turn it forward in assistance, serve the alley-oop, where even if you’ve lost, you’ve won.
Let us play more together. For that I am always game.
“A choir is made up of many voices, including yours and mine. If one by one all go silent then all that will be left are the soloists. Don’t let a loud few determine the nature of the sound. It makes for poor harmony and diminishes the song.”