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Playwork Principles and Play Types

Playwork Principles

These Principles establish the professional and ethical framework for playwork and as such must be regarded as a whole.They describe what is unique about play and playwork, and provide the playwork perspective for working with children and young people.

They are based on the recognition that children and young people’s capacity for positive development will be enhanced if given access to the broadest range of environments and play opportunities.

  • All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.
  • Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
  • The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.
  • For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas.
  • The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.
  • The playworker’s response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up to date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.
  • Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people’s play on the playworker.
  • Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well being of children.

Play Types

These were developed by Bob Hughes for the purposes of adults who study and facilitate play. It is examined in far more detail in his 1996 book A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play types, London: PLAYLINK, UK.

Children’s play is rich, varied, organic and constantly evolving. It can explore different types at the same time, flow from one to another and back again. As such, these definitions are by adults, for adults. They’re useful in helping us be more specific when we’re talking about play and play provision but will only ever capture a narrow aspect of the wealth of children’s play. This list is also evolving and should not be assumed to ever be complete.

There has also been controversy over the years about the name of the last play type, Recapitulative. It is left off of some lists entirely, but it addresses forms of play not found elsewhere in the list.

Symbolic Play

play which allows control, gradual exploration and increased understanding without the risk of being out of one’s depth.

Rough and Tumble Play

close encounter play which is less to do with fighting and more to do with touching, tickling, gauging relative strength. Discovering physical flexibility and the exhilaration of display.

Socio-dramatic Play

the enactment of real and potential experiences of an intense personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature.

Social Play

play during which the rules and criteria for social engagement and interaction can be revealed, explored and amended.

Creative Play

play which allows a new response, the transformation of information, awareness of new connections, with an element of surprise.

Communication Play

play using words, nuances or gestures for example, mime, jokes, play acting, mickey taking, singing, debate, poetry.

Dramatic Play

play which dramatizes events in which the child is not a direct participator.

Deep Play

play which allows the child to encounter risky or even potentially life threatening experiences, to develop survival skills and conquer fear.

Exploratory Play

play to access factual information consisting of manipulative behaviours such as handling, throwing, banging or mouthing objects.

Fantasy Play

play which rearranges the world in the child’s way, a way which is unlikely to occur.

Imaginative Play

play where the conventional rules, which govern the physical world, do not apply.

Locomotor Play

movement in any or every direction for its own sake.

Mastery Play

control of the physical and affective ingredients of the environments.

Object Play

play which uses infinite and interesting sequences of hand-eye manipulations and movements.

Role Play

play exploring ways of being, although not normally of an intense personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature.

Recapitulative Play

play that allows the child to explore ancestry, history, rituals, stories, rhymes, fire and darkness. Enables children to access play of earlier human evolutionary stages.