Saturday, 25 February 2012


"So, what makes you feel comfortable?"
This was the question I asked a group of seven to nine year olds this week. We were in the woods for the first session of our Forest School sessions and I wanted to help focus them on what they would be doing over the next few weeks. Their answers were the sort of this you would expect, sitting on the sofa, laying in bed, being wrapped up in a cozy blanket. We feel comfortable when we are doing things that are easy and we have done them before. But that isn't why children take part in Forest Schools.

Forest School programmes are about more than spending time in the woods and exploring. They are also about encouraging children's motivation and helping to develop positive attitudes, stretching the children and helping them realise their skills. These things just don't happen when you stay in your comfort zone.

Challenge: moving out of your comfort zone
 but still being able to function
This was how I explained to the group; we would be coming to the woods for Forest School and this is to challenge them, to try new things and for them to find out things they didn't know they could do. It is important for the children to be challenged but at the same time making sure they don't feel pushed too far.

I've been thinking about this model for a while, it is in common parlance in adventure activity circles and leadership management but I don't normally share this sort of thinking directly with the children. I was talking with a friend Kirsty who is a youthworker about how she shares models like this with the young people and this is so simple I knew the seven to nine year olds could get it too. So we laid out the different elements and talked about how important it is to move out of your comfort zone. They got it straight away and I saw lots of self motivated behaviour.

Comfort zones are such a personal individual thing and this is where the most important challenge for these children will come from. The challenge they set themselves.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Let ME play!

Last week a series of posters were doing the rounds, originated from Explorations Early Learning:

This one really caught the imagination of a number of people on facebook:

It's great isn't it! It speaks to that part of us that knows that young children need to play and explore, it shows a boy engaged with his world. It also spoke to the adult who still feels like this. 

Because yes, there are still adults who feel like this.

All kudos must be given to Marc Armitage who started the idea of remaking the poster for yourself and the other play and Early Years professionals who joined in.

I love the idea that adults still see themselves as playful beings. How do you play?

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Yes, and... Play and learning.

Sometimes I feel like describing ‘play’ is like drawing the wind. You can recognise it, you know what it looks and feels like, but it is somehow nebulous and hard to pin down. I have been working in the field of play and playwork for nearly fifteen years and yet I have still to find just one way to describe what play is. I love the fact that all you need is a handful of playworkers (and maybe a bottle of something) and ask, “What is play?” and they’ll be at it for hours!

A few weeks ago My friend Kirsty and I delivered a workshop for the Institute of Outdoor Learning on playfulness and flow states. We were exploring how an understanding of theories can help learners in a range of environments Looking for 

"Play' is a term employed in psychology and ethology to describe to a range of voluntaryintrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment”1

Which sums up the feeling we were trying to convey through our workshop, that children and young people get so much out of being able to direct their activities into something that holds their involvement, that it is important for children and adults too to be allowed to play. In recent years I have been doing more work in formal learning environments and I really see the value of the spirit of playfulness I bring to the work I do. The aspect of play or playfulness that really appeals to me, especially when I was considering how it motivates and engages learners, is the state of immersion and engagement that a child at play can enter, when the real world is lost to them and they understand totally what the rules are. Even if there are other agendas that the teachers or facilitators are trying to manage, there are still benefits to following the children into that zone, that place of immersion.

I heard a comedian talking about improvisational comedy and  he was saying how improv can be made to work if the people taking part in it follow the rule of “Yes! and....” basically, if you take whatever is offered and try to build on then you get to a more interesting, and in their case funny and surreal, place. That really strikes a chord! I know from my own teaching, training and playing that when something comes up from the group you have two choices, one is to try and shut it down and bring people back. The other is to accept what is offered, “Yes! and....” to go with the new direction. Let things come back to the starting point naturally and allow people feel more included and involved with what they are learning. Even when there is a very specific outcome you can still get to the same end point by following the meanders that include other people’s ideas rather than sticking only with your own route.

Playfulness for me is about being responsive and flexible, embracing the unpredictable nature of the world and the people in it. What do play and playfulness mean to you? 

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