By Ana Rita Secca da Fonseca
Today I had my first playwork session after attending the Playwork Campference 2019. Together with two other people, I co-founded a play provision and advocacy project based on the Playwork Principles. After three years of existence, we are now working in a primary school during lunch break recess once a week. Just before I left to the Campference, we had a hard time in one of the sessions. There was a split between three groups of children and each group occupied different corners of the playground, created dens and started a very fast dynamic of stealing things from each other. A lot of crying erupted and also complaints of aggression. I was feeling the eyes of the school staff rolling and imagining how many concessions we would have to go through in order to get the school to continue to support the project. That day I left feeling very frustrated and sad. What could I have done more or differently? I started looking for literature about this type of behavior, reviewed my Playwork Development Course materials, discussed the topic with the other playworkers, but the feeling did not wash away. Then I left to the Campference.
One of the first things that I remember hearing at the Campference was that there are no recipes in playwork practice. We have been feeling isolated here in Portugal. There is no such thing as a playworker career. We have learned it on our own terms, reading, discussing, searching for projects that could inspire us and reaching out to Pop-Adventure Playground and enrolling into the Playwork Development Course. I have been having so many questions and doubts that it always felt that we might be doing things wrongly because indeed we were unable to find a recipe. So, I smiled when I heard Morgan saying that. As the hours went by, I accumulated inside my body honest and poetic reports about the playwork practice from all the different people. The feeling that I was part of a community sank in and I felt safe and nurtured.
In one of the last sessions at the Campference, there was a though discussion on how to playwork when children behave in ways that mistreat others or that can be offensive to gender or culture –challenging behavior at its best. Stories started to unfold from one corner of the room to the other. Some people collect plant leaves, post-cards, mugs. Playworkers collect stories. These stories create inside us new possibilities of action, new pathways for play, endurance, compassion and humanity. I guess it is why it is called playwork practice. Because we practice ways out and in of play.
Here is Ana Rita performing at the Untalent Show on the second evening.
Today when I entered the play site, I felt different. Not sure what exactly it was. Then the children came in. Not long after the playframe installed itself. Many children were running around stealing things from each other. A few were crying, a few were insulting others, a few were building over and over again after several strikes. But this time I felt confident, safe, relaxed. And that was new to me, in a situation like that. It is because I have Morgan, Suzanna, Ali, Chris, Simon, Kelsey, Jill, Wes, Courtney, Alex, Naomi, Susie, Yula, Laura and all the others with me and I can get back to them and to their stories in my mind and heart or just write an email, reaching out.
I feel extremely thankful for the opportunity that was given to me through the Pop-Up Adventure Play Playworker Travelling Fund to attend the Campference. I also want to thank to Pop-Up Adventure Play (Suzanna Law and Morgan Leichter-Saxby) for connecting everybody, for nurturing the playwork movement, for creating and maintaining the Playwork Development Course and also the other support materials and for taking the herculean task of organizing the Playwork Campference, promoting cohesion within the playwork community and the transmission of knowledge.
The Playwork Campference 2019 was on 15th-18th February 2019 and was hosted in Houston, Texas at Adventure Play at The Parish School, lead by the wonderful Jill Wood. We're going to be writing more about this in the weeks to come, but for now, enjoy the photos here and here.