What is playwork?

Professional playworkers are a key part of the children’s workforce throughout the UK. Playwork is a skilled profession that supports and enhances children’s play. The aim is to ensure that children have enriching space in which to play and any support from the playworkers they might request for their play. Playwork is not easy or simply about providing children with free time – good playwork takes a lot of thought and skill. It is because, as described in the section about play, many of the benefits of play are derived when children are free to follow their own instincts, and these particular benefits are not available to children when adults programme activities. The role of the playworker is therefore to support the process of play as it unfolds (if their support is desired or needed by the children), and to create the conditions that help enriching play experiences to happen in the first place, and this is where professional skill is so important.

For example, the Best Play criteria for enriched play environments highlight some of the many opportunities that must be available to children if they are to benefit from hands-on, engaging and creatively challenging experience of the world:

  • A varied and interesting physical environment
  • Challenge in relation to the physical environment
  • Playing with the natural elements – earth, water, fire, air
  • Movement – e.g. running, jumping, rolling, climbing, balancing
  • Manipulating natural and fabricated materials
  • Stimulation of the five senses
  • Experiencing change in the natural and built environment
  • Social interactions
  • Playing with identity
  • Experiencing a range of emotions

Providing this quality of opportunity in a way that is about enabling free exploration by the children is no easy task, particularly for playworkers in more restricted environments such as a shared community hall – but certainly not impossible.

Playworkers can be most often found working in out of school clubs (after school, breakfast, holidays etc), playschemes, adventure playgrounds and in parks or on playbuses as part of mobile play provision.

Playworkers adhere to the Playwork Principles, the professional and ethical standards for the playwork profession:

  1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.
  2. Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
  3. The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.
  4. For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas.
  5. The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.
  6. The playworker’s response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up to date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.
  7. Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people’s play on the playworker.
  8. Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well being of children.