Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Play Work

We can heave a big sigh of relief for the nation (perhaps) as a result of yesterdays outcomes, but North Carolina seems to be deeper in the mud than ever now.  It remains to be seen what impact the new NC republican administration will have on areas like education and environmental issues.   I'm not sure but I think I could have some problems in terms of finding work in my areas of interest in the future.

But I want to think positive and share another great experience I had last week when I attended a workshop on Spaces for Play, part of the Playful Pedagogy certificate program offered by the NC Zoo.  While the term Play worker sounds like an oxymoron, it is in fact a growing field promoted in England and other European countries over the past few years and is slowly being promoted here in the States.

The problem is that children these days are apparently only spending 1% of their time in free play.  This is the kind of stuff that as a child I and my contemporaries spent most of our time out of school engaged in.  Riding bikes around the neighborhood, building forts, climbing trees, exploring the woods and ponds, making up games and engaging in free, creative play, with little or no adult supervision.  Now most of a kids time is spent in organized activities like sports, music or ballet lessons, homework and clubs and what little free time kids do have they are often glued to a TV, computer or other screen-centered device that doesn't promote creative thinking, let alone any physical activity or movement that would promote good health.

Risk-taking, learning social skills, determining how to think freely and decide what's safe and what isn't are integral parts of free play.  We are generating a world of kids who are scared of being outside, raised by parents who are afraid of their kids being out of their sight.  Helicopter parents is a term that I've been hearing recently to describe the hovering worry wart types that won't let a kid have any fun.  Many folks at the conference that work with families said their role was mostly to distract parents so the kids could have some adventures while their folks weren't looking!  Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and his Children and Nature Network tell much more about these issues and the website has great ideas for getting outside with kids.

At the workshop I got to network with cool folks from the Philly and Phoenix zoos and childcare workers and others from across NC.  Together we learned about play theory, about creating spaces for play that provide a sense of safety for the parents, like fences in the distance, but opportunities for the kids to have some fun.  The term "affordance" refers to objects in the setting that afford opportunities for creative play.  In natural settings these could be creeks, fallen logs, sticks and branches with which to build forts and other structures. They might also be stuff like manufactured objects such as Styrofoam noodles, PVC pipes, buckets, balls, clay, tarps, and nets that kids can use to construct things or create games.  Seems the main goal of the play worker is to provide a safe place for kids, with objects that can become "affordances"  and then get out of the way, only stepping in if it seems someone is actually on the verge of getting seriously injured.
Here I am inside our "fox den".  Working as a team we had to create a habitat for play.  We took advantage of the natural placement of rocks and used sticks, branches and a blue tarp to create a roof for the den.  Then we covered it all with leaves for camouflage.  It even had a back escape opening.  We managed to get 10 people into this space which was actually pretty cozy.  I had a good time, learned and networked and look forward to part 3 of the training, hopefully coming up in 2013.

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