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Understanding playwork

Play Education (1982) define play as "Freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated, (behaviour), that is, performed for no external goal or reward". Through play children can explore and learn about themselves, other people and their environment.  Play develops a number of skills including:

  • fine and gross motor skills
  • sensory knowledge
  • exploration of different roles
  • language skills
  • social skills
  • cognitive skills
  • problem solving

Playwork facilitates children's play and development. As playworkers it is important to understand your role and the impact you can have on play. We have put together information on play below to help you understand you role as a playworker.

Playwork principles

These principles set out the professional and ethical framework for playwork. They describe what is unique about play and playwork and give the playwork perspective for working with children and young people. They are based on the understanding that you can enhance children's and young people's capacity for positive development by offering them the broadest range of environments and play opportunities. We have included a copy of the playwork principles at the bottom of this page.

Play types

Playworkers need to aim to enrich the play environment with a range of opportunities for children and young people. The 16 play types developed by Bob Hughes are one way of thinking about the range play available, considering the space, environment and resources. You can find a copy of the play types at the bottom of this page.

Loose parts theory

Loose parts theory was first introduced in the 1970’s by architect Simon Nicholson. He found that  when designing children’s playgrounds, the fixed equipment had a low play value. Simon noticed that all the items that were piled up to be thrown away were being played with and on whilst the fixed and designed equipment wasn’t.  Loose parts can be: moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no set of specific directions and can be used alone or combined with other materials. You can find out more about loose parts theory and how to incorporate it into your setting at the bottom of this page.

The play cycle

The play cycle is a way of showing a child's play process, as playworkers we can use the play cycle to understand play better and understand how we can support play. You can find a copy of the play cycle at the bottom of this page.

Playwork curriculum

The playwork curriculum suggests that the essential experiences that children are able to access fall into four categories; the elements, identity, concepts and the senses. The play environment can be assessed against the playwork curriculum to identify the experiences available for children. We have included more information on the playwork curriculum at the bottom of this page.

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