Blog 33

My son doesn’t play out. There I’ve said it. I spend a lot of my professional life talking about how important it is for children to play out, away from their (possibly controlling/over anxious, almost certainly, insecure) parents but I cannot make it happen at home.Part of the reason is that I am at work and therefore not there to support it happening, partly it is because he loves the x box but mainly it is because there are no other children playing out.
I would like him to go and ‘knock’ for his mates and then for them to go to the park. That is what I used to do but the parents of his mates don’t feel safe about letting the children go by themselves. 
This means that an adult must be free to facilitate the play, that they must stay at the park with a watchful eye, they will not be able to resist or will genuinely enjoy, organising games and therefore behaviours. 

The ‘meetings’ for play (known as play dates) need to be set up, friends chosen, families vetted, safety kept uppermost in the minds and responsibility placed squarely on the play-dater’s shoulders.

I used to choose who I played with – my parents didn’t always like the children or their families. I didn’t care. I didn’t even consider it in my decisions. I worked it out for myself.

I was sometimes set up to play with people who my parents liked or friends they thought suitable – these weren’t the same people.

I find myself flummoxed by what is happening on a macro level in the UK right now, I have lost my confidence (if I ever had any) in those who have set themselves up to know more than the rest of us and am bewildered that the things that I value, beliefs that I have and opinions that I hold have no bearing whatsoever on what comes to pass.

I find myself returning to my experience as a young person when I couldn’t understand adults, why they did what they did or thought the things that they seemed to think and I am glad that I worked out then how to make up my own mind, consider my own decisions and live with the consequences of my actions.

We need to work out how to ensure our children and young people get the chance to develop these skills and build resilience so that they will be able to cope with what comes next. The adventure playgrounds in Islington offer this possibility but I don’t live in Islington- I need to work out how to get the parents of my son’s friends to let them out to play.

I will keep you updated. (And yes, the dog has gone).


Blog 32

I have been thinking about the role of being a parent this week. I made a mistake at home and had to apologise. I said we could get a dog… 
Now without going into detail introducing a rescue dog into a home consisting of the eldest and her boyfriend living in the basement, the middle one doing A levels and planning her future life, the youngest (age 8) me and my husband may, to others more sensible than myself, seem obviously like a recipe for disaster.

I thought it might work.

 It didn’t.
Having older children seems to be no easier than having younger ones and a core issue is that as ‘the adult’ is there (me!) all risks are minimised for the children/young people/actually adults.

Their ability to risk assess and make decisions is affected by my presence. They trust me. They think I know what I am doing (?!).

This reminds me about why our adventure playgrounds do not allow adults on site during the weeks play sessions. It is to give the children the responsibility and freedom to make their own decisions and to try things out without their adults controlling and influencing their behaviours. The playgrounds create a safe space where families can practice trust.

Children do not make decisions based on parental approval or allowance, they have to think for themselves and find out what they are capable of coping with.

I am hoping this is what will stand all my own children in good stead when they leave home and decide whether to get a dog. Sadly dog ownership is definitely beyond my capability of coping….


Blog 31

Let’s not mix up childcare with play.

This is a controversial statement – my own organisation provides both and ensures that our childcare services are play based. That is -based on the Playwork principles. However there are some fundamental tensions in that space. The principles state play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated.Childcare and after school clubs have no intrinsic child-led agenda -the services are bought by adults -they may however have a culture, ethos and desire to provide excellent play opportunities for children to run sessions that are based on the freedom to play. What they all do have however is an increasing pressure to conform to a bizarre unrealistic ‘health and safety’ agenda which seems to imply that adults can irradiate risk for children.

This flies in the face of the UK’s own health and safety executive which once again has come out publicly to show the frustration of experts about our blinkered approach to supporting our children and young people to be equipped to deal with that which life will inevitably throw at them.

Mental health issues rising mean that a higher and higher number of children feel disconnected, lonely and powerless. It is proven that free, self-directed play develops connections in the brain, improves socialisation and gives a sense of agency…

Free play is what children do when you let them free. It is not the same as what they do when you set them tests, explain the rules of the game, tell them to make Christmas cards or to take turns.

Childcare is for adults. Play is for the individual. They are not the same. By all means let’s work hard together to ensure that the children placed into childcare by busy adults receive the opportunities to develop that play services can provide but let’s not forget the fundamental foundational difference -children in childcare are not free.


Blog 30

I hope it’s spring now, winter whilst not too cold has seemed long. The change In season is welcome.
Last weekend I attended and spoke at the Islington Crime and Safety summit – a well attended affair where we talked about the issues facing our young people as they go about the business of having childhoods and being teenagers. 

The sense of the meeting was one of concern for all the young people, both victims and perpetrators, and a recognition of the blur between the two- I am hopeful that a lot more good discussions will flow from there.

All of the speakers were grown ups.

 My own view is that that is how it should be- we have a responsibility to find out and to care about what young people think and experience. We also have a responsibility to use that information to make policy with other decision makers in our town halls and strategic meetings. Isn’t that our job?

Job – now that is an interesting word, I have noticed how interested funders are in the life skills that will equate to jobs for children and young people. Schools too explain happily how students are on a job path, how certain subjects will ensure higher salaries and how being ‘job ready’ will get you ahead – this is like being ‘school ready’.

As far as I can see being ‘school ready’ is very young children being ‘ready’ (trained) to sit still and listen to a grown up, perhaps politely asking a relevant question when signalled that it is an appropriate time, able to keep quiet and not talk to the other 29 children also sitting cross legged on carpet.

Is This What We Really Think Is Best???

Do you want your own children to listen to other grown ups and accept all they say, to not verbalise their feelings, to drink in whatever version of history is currently accepted in the curriculum, to force their bodies to sit still and their minds to be passive?

I am passionate about education and that for me is about children and young people learning about themselves and their environments, getting information, advice and input from all those that have gone before and then using their own skills to negotiate their own lives.

That’s why I love adventure playgrounds.


Blog 29

Time has speeded up. Everyone says it – I thought it was part of getting older – I remember older relations talking about ‘time flying’ and children growing so fast but this is different. The children can feel it too.
My own observation is that it is the phones… a bit like the triffids, we are all stunned with the amazing show but unaware of the effects. I can see when people, whether adults or children, go on their phones they lose time. Each conversation goes on for eternity-literally. Every picture leads to another and before you know it you are searching for another kitten video. The technology leads you along and strings together in a never ending fascinating trail of information and entertainment. Infotainment.

And time keeps going by.

There is research coming out slowly about the effects of the screen but surprisingly little about its effects on children. There is a weird feeling that if we criticise the technology we are proving ourselves to be some sort of luddites, destroying the new to maintain a tenuous grip on the past- but as we know, the effects of the industrial revolution were terrible for many and history is written by the winners. I read an article recently that argued that the financial argument for the closure of the mines in the 1980’s, based on their unprofitability, was premised on fundamental untruths. No surprise to lefty Guardian readers that Maggie T went ahead and destroyed people’s livelihoods due to her political ideals rather than necessity but are the lessons learnt? Can any of us make decisions based on anything other than our own ability to understand the world?

When we offer up the adventure playgrounds for play we, as adults, have pre set ideas about what children will want to do there. We sometimes set stuff up to show them what’s possible. It is very difficult to accept all that the children bring to the site and this is the core struggle for the playworkers. How do you accommodate totally different ideas, views, thoughts, experiences in one place – how does civilisation work?

If we are ‘allowing’ children freedom to choose, do we ‘allow’ them to choose to play repetitive, addictive games on their phones? Do we ‘let’ them drink coke and eat £1 chicken shop for lunch. Every day?

I come back to the idea that there are some who can see the effects of futuristic ideas and warn of the possible dangers, we need to accommodate these views, consider them, maybe even try to mitigate the effects of following what seems an inevitable path. At IPA we believe that this means encouraging children to think about what they eat, what they do and how they play. We aim to be non judgemental but instead model behaviours that ‘we’ believe are positive for living a happy and fulfilled life.

And then we must let the children choose. Because it is their future. And it is coming very fast.





Blog 28

I was interviewed recently for an article in the Camden new journal. The interviewer actually used to go to the playground that I grew up on – Camden square and we remembered the same staff and some of the children.
You can see the article on our website.

A key part of the discussion was her fond memories of the experience and my belief that it is still possible for ‘urban’ children to enjoy the freedom of being in nature, climbing, jumping and testing themselves in an environment where they are not continually overseen and controlled by adults.

As we are saying in our current campaign- #ThisisReal it is not a fantasy that children can challenge and learn for themselves it can, does and should happen.

I am constantly amazed by the lack of independence our society awards to children. I wonder whether the desire often expressed that they need to ‘take responsibility for their actions’ could be better served by allowing them to?

I was reading a national newspaper last week that was poking fun at Jeremy Corbyn saying at he had to trawl through thousands of emails before he could decide where to stand on bombing Syria. The message was clearly that he is naive and places too much emphasis on what ‘ordinary’ people may think. There is a sense that the ordinary public do not have access to the real facts, or are unrealistic in their ideas about not bombing another country full of ordinary people. It strikes me as an idea fast going out of fashion with every one of us having access to direct information from the entire globe. If we are going to watch the consequence of our actions played out across the news channels should we not take the responsibility to decide what those actions should be? Moot point now obviously.

 It is true that listening to a myriad of different voices and opinions is far more challenging than listening to one or two powerful ones. It is also true that reaching a consensus for many is more difficult than just deciding for yourself based on your own experiences. Does that mean we shouldn’t do it?

To bring it back to my area (and away from politics) there are similar issues in children’s services. Many children may come and they may all wish to assert their ‘agency’ -their ability to make their own choices -and these may not be ‘convenient’ or even comfortable for the staff. Some may say the answer is for the adults to plan the session and allow some flexibility within that e.g arts and crafts card making sessions that allow choice in terms of the picture on the Christmas card. At the adventure playgrounds we strive to really allow freedom and exploration and we may end up with glitter in our hair, in the sandpit, on our shoes or unopened but we aim for the children involved to have decided what they want to do and to experience the results. This will give them the opportunity to understand the way their world works, perceive the consequences of their actions, learn how to explore options and become responsible adults ready to deal with their future lives.

It may also leave them covered in glitter. And that is fun too.



Blog 27

The ‘Women Making a Difference in Islington’ conference took place at Almeida last week. I was proud and nervous to be speaking. I told some very personal stories to try to illustrate how I got to where I am. I also spoke about my belief in the importance of play.The biggest challenge in terms of questions after the session were from young people who had attended. They asked me how they were meant to find time to play when they didn’t leave school til 4.30 and then had to go and do homework. They asked how they could play when all the pressure on them was to achieve higher grades in exams and tests with the adults supporting them constantly reinforcing the need for studying. They didn’t believe that play would help them achieve their goals or get them to the next stage in their journey.

They were hungry for clues about how to get ahead, achieve, become professionals, and earn money (they know they can never own property) and my answers about the need for self-development, learning in your own way and building resilience to be able to cope seemed sort of retro and naive.

The children have internalised the rhetoric of adults but without the knowledge that other options exist. They told me that it wasn’t safe for children on the streets and didn’t believe me when I said it was no more or less dangerous than it ever was.

The young people said that when they take a break from studying they relax with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, they implied they were too busy to play. 

It is making me think and think again about my organisation. IPA is set up with the knowledge and the expressed aim to create excellent opportunities for children to play. We know that parents are busy, families live in cramped and overcrowded conditions with no access to outside space and that children are apprehensive about the world outside the screen.

We must also take into account the disappearing knowledge of the importance of play and interacting with others emotionally and physically, the rewarding of static, quiet, compliant behaviours for children and their carers, the constant media scare stories of danger and the fact that all the fear and worry experienced by adults is directly channelled into the psyches of the children.

We must work even harder to ensure that children get access to free play, where they can explore the world they are growing into and choose how they want to interact and react so that they can be ready for whatever is coming next.