Play mojo
Has your venue found its play mojo? The heritage sector is starting to undergo a play revolution - are you part of it yet?

ImagePlay is an essential part of every child’s life and vital to development. It is the way children explore the world around them, developing and practising skills.
Play is essential for physical, emotional and physical growth; for intellectual and educational progress and acquiring social and behavioural skills.
Play is a common term applied to a wide range of activities and behaviours that are satisfying for the child, creative for the child and freely chosen by the child.
Children’s play may or may not involve equipment or have and end product. Their play may be boisterous and energetic or quiet and contemplative, light hearted or very serious’

The New Charter for Children’s Play
(The Children’s Play Council definition of play)

There are lots of different types of play from exploratory play (manipulative play where children explore their environment) and socio-dramatic play (enacting real or potential situations) to more challenging deep play (engrossing risky play that faces children with opportunities to conquer fears or develop survival skills). More on what is play?

There are also different levels of participation observed in play from adult planned play to child instigated play where the child provides the ideas for the play and adults just support the activity.

Much work is currently being undertaken to reconnect children with nature through environmental play.  Think:Play words

Signage at Kew's new natural play areaMay 2010 saw the opening of a new play area at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, London called PLANTastic Play.  This joins the expanding family offer at Kew including the Climbers and Creepers indoor play area (opened in 2004 and hailed at Britain's first botanical play zone) and the new, more traditional play area called Treehouse TowersKew play equipment

Kew has spoken about PLANTastic Play as a 'play landscape' ie a sculpted landscape in which to naturally play rather than structured play equipment.  They've probably got half way there - as you can see by the photos.  Equipment like this leaves you wondering if the interpretation on it is actually for the children or if they just ignore it and get on with playing in their own way. 

Is it necessary to include educational messages like this in your play equipment or is encouraging play in the outdoors enough of a learning outcome in itself? 

Is the interpretation just there to satisfy funders/trustees or is there evaluation evidence to show it really is effective?Kew play tunnels

Could play areas like this commit more wholeheartedly to play and only include interpretation where it adds value and isn't abstract (like being sucked up through a plant's xylem which they won't actually ever have seen or learn about seriously until secondary school).   

I much prefer the Badger Sett .  In my opinion one of the little known gems at Kew and one of our favourite outdoor play experiences - simple but effective with a play experience that actually mimics something within most children's sphere of experience.  Who hasn't gone on a walk and peered down holes in the bank, nestled between the roots of a tree or in fields wondering what lives down there and what it would be like to live underground? (Is that just me?!)Playing in the sand

But play isn't just about creating special physical spaces for play; play can happen nearly anywhere.  Play is more importantly about having an attitude of playfulness in your organisation.  Is play allowed and encouraged? 

Take a look at BeWILDerwood and the Roald Dahl Children's Gallery for sites that really embrace play and playfulness.

Have you been impressed by the playful attitude at a site? Let us know and we'll add it to the list!

Some useful play resources;

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