Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Playwork Campference 2019: Reflective Letter from our Previous Keynote Speaker


Dear Campference 2019 attendees,

Why do we attend conferences?

To paraphrase the 20th Century poet, T.S. Eliot: ‘information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom’. In other words, it is possible to have lots of information in your memory about a particular subject, but if you don’t know what it means then it’s worthless; and if you don’t know what to do with that information and knowledge then it’s largely useless. One of the great things about most playwork conferences is that they have the potential to provide all those things - information, knowledge and wisdom. There will be presentations offering hard facts about the world of playwork; and workshops run by experienced practitioners who can share their knowledge. To make the best use of the wisdom on offer we need to develop the art of judging the difference between those who offer wisdom and those who offer nonsense dressed up in the ‘emperor’s new clothes’.

Of course, the other great thing we get from playwork conferences is the opportunity to network, to make new friends, to meet like-minded people, to debate with those holding different views. In 2017 I attended the first Campference, where all those things were possible, and much more besides. It was organised by the Pop-Up Adventure Play people, and it involved not only the usual conference fare, but also the opportunity to camp out with the other Playworkers (and in some cases their children) at the Eureka Villa Adventure Playground in Val Verde, near Los Angeles. That must have seemed like a good idea when the organisers thought of it – after all, who wouldn’t want to camp out in sunny California? Unfortunately, on the second day, the heavens opened and we had a month’s rainfall in one day. The site was awash, but the playwork spirit came to the fore, and in the end, it felt as though the event had actually been enhanced by the incredible weather.

However, the thing that particularly struck me about the Campference was the thirst for knowledge of the attendees. People came from all over America, and in some cases far beyond. I met playwork people from Japan, Australia, Kenya, and Guatemala. They came with enthusiasm and positivity, and above all an intense desire to learn more about playwork. At the end of one of the evening sessions, I was one of the Panelists who were given the task of summing up the playwork approach in a few words. I think the questioner probably expected me to fall back on my usual ‘fun, freedom and flexibility’, but I had just been talking about the therapeutic aspects of playwork, and so I said “unconditional positive regard”.

Fraser on stage with Erin, Luke and Michele, the panelists at Campference 2017.

In this response, I was drawing on the work of the humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers and the play therapist, Virginia Axline. Humanistic theory would see the playwork environment as characterised by respect, understanding and openness on the part of the playworker – an environment where the child is free to express their feelings completely. In such an environment the role of the playworker is that of a selfless helper, whose task is to satisfy the child’s fundamental need to play, while at the same time developing warm human relationships. All this may eventually enable the child to come closer to self-actualisation than might otherwise be possible. ‘Unconditional positive regard’ is the term that applies to the fundamental attitude of the playworker towards the children. The playworker who adopts that approach deeply values the humanity of the children with whom they work, and most importantly, cannot be deflected from that attitude by any particular child behaviours. The attitude is constantly reconfirmed by the playworker’s “acceptance of and enduring warmth towards the children” (Mearns and Thorne,  1988, p.59 – slightly paraphrased).

I hope this year’s Campference lives up to expectations, and that all those attending maintain ‘acceptance of and enduring warmth towards each other’ – in the spirit of playwork.

Prof. Fraser Brown
Leeds Beckett University
January 2019


Monday, 7 January 2019

Playwork Campference 2019: Introducing Jill Wood

By Zan

In preparation for the first Playwork Campference in 2017, we interviewed US-based playworker and Director of Adventure Play at The Parish School, Jill Wood who we had invited to the event as a special guest. She was such a hit at the Campference that Morgan and I felt strongly that she should play a much bigger part in the next event. One year later, Jill, Morgan and I had a Skype meeting that ended with happy and warm hearts: not only would Jill be one of our keynotes, but we would be taking the Campference to her in Texas. Here's a short interview with Jill as we prepare for the Playwork Campference 2019.

Pop-Up Adventure Play: What were your favorite moments of last Campference?
Jill Wood: I met person after person who was creative, open-minded, generous and highly motivated to improve the quality of children’s lives. Reimagining things requires community and support. It requires shared experiences and resources, stories of success, and honest conversation about challenges.

I went home to Texas smelling of campfire, soggy from the rains, and reinvigorated to keep our Houston playground as adventurous as possible.

PUAP: How do you feel about Campference coming to yours?
JW: I am ridiculously excited! It is such an honor to have play people from all over the world gathering on our playground. I would be nervous, except that I know the children have created something beautiful in AP. It’s a space that deserves be shared and will make a great place to conference.

PUAP: What are your hopes for Campference 2019?
JW: A few years back the kids on our playground started digging a huge hole they called ‘the Mine.’ They would dig until they found a chunk of clay, put it on a window screen, spray it with a hose until it was palm-sized, then run around with fists held tight around it. One kid told another, ‘you throw it against the wall and if it sticks, it gives you super speed.’ I heard another say it gives you multiple lives, so when you get shot you can jump back up again. Someone else said it makes your brain icky to zombies.

I hope people leave with immortality, lightning speed, and brains that taste like poop to zombies. I also hope they leave knowing there are 80 other people around the world who believe childhood is precious, will fight to protect it and would be happy to Skype for a reflective pep-talk!

Registration for Campference will close on 15th January 2019 but there is still time to sneak you in! Check out the information here and get in touch today if you want to come! Follow our Facebook and Twitter for more! 

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Hello 2019

By Zan

The coming year promises to be filled with adventure.

Right off the bat, we are excited to be just over a month away from the second ever Playwork Campference, a gathering of over 70 play advocates from 6 different countries in one of our favourite adventure playgrounds: Adventure Play at The Parish School. Morgan and I will get to hang out in person for the first time since October 2017, and will also be popping in to the TASP/IPA conference in Virginia in March.

I'm have been invited back to Asia too! I'll be doing some training with the folks of Playright - Hong Kong's Play Association, and will be traveling on to Malaysia to hang out with Queenie Tan and her team. I can't quite believe that I will be going back to a world where everyone looks like me - I feel both privileged and alarmed, but as long as I prioritise the needs of the child at all times, I know that I can overcome my own adult fears.

In between these trips, I also hope to continue developing Just Play MCR - play opportunities in my own community. It was a spectacular 2018, so I hope to fit in more pop-ups in 2019 and gather playful folk from all over Manchester in the name of play.

These are the physical adventures Morgan and I will go on - there might be a few more (and we are always open to more) but so far this is what we have in the books.

Adventure is certainly in the mind for us too as Morgan and I battle to finish our PhDs. It seems like just yesterday that I agreed to dedicate 6 years of my life to a specific area in play and then promised to write about it, but 6 years later, I have still not finished and have had to put it on pause twice. Hopefully this is the year that I will be done, I will be able to celebrate with Morgan as we put this writing monster to bed.

Having typed all of these plans out, I am excited about the next 12 months. It's going to be a lot of hard work - especially the PhD - but I know that it'll be worth it in the end. Much like trying to put outdoor gear on a toddler before going outside - there will be tears, tantrums, lots of random excuses and procrastination, and probably even a rogue dragon invasion, but once it's done and we start playing, it will feel amazing.

Hello 2019 - we look forward to meeting you head on.

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