August 2010

1st July ‘10

We had a busy session in today’s hot weather with swinging games in the hammock and chasing games. There was a long game of tag between a group of kids who played at being a zombie or a gorilla to chase the others when they were ‘it’. One chase game between the older boys and a younger male playworker, felt a little aggressive, turning from fun into them getting rude with personal comments. They began to cuss his mum but Jake turned it into a game telling them he only got angry if they said good things about his mum! The fun came back with him pretending to get mad when they told him his mum was nice and a “responsible citizen”!

3rd July ‘10

Today’s sessions were fairly busy at all 3 squares with the sunny weather bringing lots of kids outside. We played lots of football today, making goals for each other by standing with our feet apart which allowed for lots of cheating! One girl at the 2nd square organised a game of ‘Duck, duck, goose’ with everyone but it didn’t work for very long. At the last square a very shy, little girl came out to play with her mum and got drawn into our session. At first she just wanted to push the basket swing and was too scared to get on but when we promised to push her very gently she agreed to have a go and by the end of the session she was shouting to go higher, giggling and even getting cheeky. Her mum stood close by the whole time, watching us and seemed a bit suspicious of us. She looked pleased that her daughter was having a good time but called to her several times to be careful.

6th July ‘10

Today was warm and lots of older kids were hanging out on the estate. There was an atmosphere of tension between the older group of boys and the playworkers and lots of parents were out, some shouting in what felt like quite aggressive tones at their children. We had a game of hide and seek and games on the swings. At one point a boy winded himself falling off the swing but also enjoyed milking the attention of his friends as they gathered round him!

8th July ‘10

This session was lots of fun with lots of kids playing out in the sun. They had a long game of slap-ball with a tennis ball and some boys climbed in the trees. One took it very seriously, wanting to find chalk to rub on his hands before he climbed and asking the playworkers for help finding little bits of chalk on the ground. A male playworker had a long chasing game with some children which was lots of fun but got difficult when one boy got angry as the other children wound him up saying the playworker had said bad things about his mum.

A girl of about 3 was sat on her balcony wanting to play too but wasn’t allowed to come down. She talked through a small gap in the balcony to the playworkers and tried to drop Wotsit crisps and her skipping rope down to them!

A couple of girls tried to take the playworkers’ bags, it was a game for them but we explained to them why it was going too far. Also, a boy found a used condom in a bush during the session and was asking what it was but it seemed he already knew. We tried telling him it was an old water bomb!

3 boys did some great dancing, one was showing the moves he was learning for his school play, ‘Grease’ and the others joined in, one excitedly tried to do a front flip but landed on his back. He said he was fine but it had obviously hurt!

10th July ‘10

Today’s session at the first square was quiet with just a handful of girls wanting to make chalk drawings on the floor. At the next square we had a water fight with a large group of mostly girls, some boys came out towards the end of the session but didn’t want to get wet, they started their own game of football.

13th July ‘10

This session began quietly and became very busy. Two girls made a hammock totally by themselves, figuring out to tie the knots. It could only swing a little bit before hitting the climbing frame but they were very proud of it and themselves.

One game got very boisterous- a game of chasing a new playworker with branches. It was a game he had started, but it began to get a little out of hand. At the end of the session the young teenagers involved followed the playworkers to the bus stop and it felt somewhere between play and something more serious, they were angry from the game.

15th July ‘10

It’s been a sunny, windy, mad session with lots of children with lots of energy! two girls competed to commandeer Rainer’s attention, one wanting to play swings, another to play a hairdressing game. When one girl got a small cut and got some first aid treatment to clean the cut, the other deliberately grazed her arm against a tree so she could also get the treatment and attention.

There were lots of running backwards races (the winner would become king) and a football game that a large group of boys and girls played together- which was nice as they normally play in separate groups.

One boy spent ages playing with a hole he dug in the mud and filled with water, calling it his ‘bibbily bubbly’.

17th July ‘10

Lots of fantasy play and running games took place in the first part of the session, Rainer became the king in the ‘castle’ (a ring of stones on the bank) with his own fashion designer and servants bringing exotic pretend foods. This turned more chaotic as servants began to rebel and needed capturing, creating a chasing game and lots of arresting people in prisons of material. Themes from games played in previous weeks crept their way back into this one and the fun we were having attracted several new kids into the game as they came over to see what was happening and found themselves wrapped up in material too.

At the 2nd square we had no children at all, which was unusual here. The weather was dry so it seemed strange. We put some coloured tape and fabric out to make ourselves more visible and waited half an hour but when still no children came we decided to go earlier to the last square. Here was busy again, with football and swing games. One boy tried to start a competition to jump off the swing but no one wanted to compete with him, he was too good at it! Lots of children dressed up and one girl remained in character as queen throughout the entire session, ordering the play workers to capture a smaller boy who was rude to her for being “the smelliest boy”. As we began to pack up the session, a group of boys took our ball and began throwing it to each other and we had a game of chasing the ball then, when we got it, throwing it between ourselves (the playworkers and one girl on our side) while they tried to get it again. It was good natured and the session ended on a high.

20th July ‘10

At today’s session we had an incident where a father came down and accused a playworker of having hurt his daughter’s finger the week before. They had been play-fighting. Another girl overhearing said she had been hurt too which aggravated the situation with the father but the play workers responded calmly to the man’s anger and his threat to phone the police. He didn’t call the police and the situation diffused. After he left, the play returned with lots of crafts and some new children joining in. The weekly session on this estate often feels dense with lots of issues from life on the estate impinging on the relationships between the groups of kids who play here. Somehow these sessions are often less playful. We have a sense everyone has to guard their behaviour here, including the adults. Dressing up and fantasy play rarely happen here for example, games tend to be more physical.

This was one of the new play spaces created under the Pathfinder scheme. Before it was built we were told that the land was going to be used to create more housing in an already over populated patch of territory. This had been the last remaining open space in the estate. Interestingly at that time the RSL was concerned because the children who were about 15 at the time had started acting out with some very anti-social behaviours. As we talked to the landlords they came to understand that these children –born as the estate was re-generated and all the common ground used for building or fenced off for private use- had never had space to play out as a group. They had become super territorial and were chased away from stairwells. I was told that the RSL was pulling out the planting, not because it was ugly and municipal, but because the kids were hiding knives and axes in the bushes. Pathfinder came along at just the right time for this estate. The opportunity to create a village green was very well received by the residents and the land was saved by the creation of this play area. Originally there were complaints from RSL staff about the amount of littler that appeared on the site each night. But we were able to point out that this was an indicator of great success. Especially as the littler appeared later on in the evening and was obviously being dropped by young people. This was the only sign that the youngsters were using the site. There had been no complaints about anti-social behaviour at all. I made sure that as many people in the organisation saw this as a cause for celebration and suggested it merited them arranging another litter pick on their maintenance schedule and perhaps installing a rubbish bin.

For years this site had been evenly spread with dog shit. No-one had ever picked it up. The only patch of green available to all these thousands of people used to regulate the bowels of town dogs. In the light of this background information it will be hardly surprising that an estate –so long deprived of the civilized resources that every community has the right to expect– a space for the whole community to play and share the outside, not just use it as an inconvenience that happens between buildings, (or a convenience for dogs) has developed a long term play deprivation. The community are going to be cautious. It will take a while to unpick this damage. But hey! For at least 15 years, no child has played on this space, no adult sat to watch them, no complaints have been made that a finger got cut. That complaining father, like the litter, is a cause for celebration! (Penny.)

22nd July ‘10

Today was relaxed and busy. There was a long game of collecting tiny beads left behind from the jewellery making in last week’s session and throwing them at each other. Some of the boys had a long chat with Rainer about injustice and how unfair adults were to them.

Some boys climbed high in the trees, taking lots of risks, and also a big game of dodge ball took place which brought lots of the kids together. They told us they don’t normally play together when we’re not there.

24th July ‘10

Today we had a big play-fight throwing fabric at each other with all the play workers and lots of kids involved. At one point it got a bit aggressive between two brothers and two other boys and a conflict was beginning. We managed to distract them into another game where we tied them all to the tree with the material and then timed how long it took each of them to escape! The play-fight resumed afterwards but was friendlier. Again, we had to explain to the younger boys about keeping it playful and not really punching or kicking people hard! One boy quietly took himself away from the play-fights to build himself a hammock to sit in and a quieter group of girls drew around Habiba, making a book so they could play a game about a school teacher with her class.

At the next square Habiba and I made a pretty hanging decoration of gold buttons on ribbon while we waited to see if the kids would turn up. They did and our artwork was destroyed within 2 minutes as they pillaged for the gold buttons which became money and the currency of the session! The oldest boy made himself king and got his servants to collect gold coins for him or he would pay them for tasks. The game became themed around power and punishment. Rainer and I were their prisoners and they taped our hands and feet, but one boy made himself a spy, disguising himself in fabric and helped us escape! The king’s mother shouted out the window at him when he sat on the floor because it was dirty, then called him home but from home he lent out his window to shout down to us that he was now in his castle!

At our third and final square all the children played together in one massive game of dressing up and organised a royal wedding between themselves, the older children taking the important roles and getting the younger ones to be their maids, cooks, etc. We build a den for their palace of fabric between trees in an area of the square that isn’t normally played in and the honeymoon took place on the swing! At the end of session the princess decided to divorce her prince, she said she’d found someone better.

27th July ‘10

Today, at the start of the school summer holidays, was busy. A group of kids were doing a dance project in the community hall and came out to play with us during their break. We brought ‘Play’ flags with us which the kids coloured with highlighter pens and put around the play space. Some children made paper guns and some quite complicated origami ninja stars. One boy was determined to learn how to make the stars and ran about for ages between the other kids asking for help until he got enough help to do it. Lots of the play centred around the roundabout and swings.

29th July ‘10

Today we played with the flags and highlighter pens again, and played with small figures. A girl with special needs from our Mile End park session came along today and the other children were curious to come and meet her, some were awkward, not knowing how to react to her, but one boy who normally plays wildly in sessions was especially caring towards her. Lots of the children brought cousins along who were visiting them over the school holidays so the session was busy. There was a bit of trouble at the end of the session with some older boys making racist and homophobic comments to the playworkers and even hitting one of the younger, male playworkers but they stopped when asked to.

31st July ‘10

The session began quietly today, we did some crafts with a couple of children who were already playing out, making clothes pegs into people, monsters, snakes, etc. and pretending to be upset when the kids destroyed our own creations. It was quite a grey morning and we saw about 10 kids during the session. We had bizarre game where the playworkers put clothes pegs as high in the tree as we could reach/ jump to and the kids tried to get them all out again!

As usual, no children were playing out in the 2nd square when we arrived. We began building a den, attaching 2 ropes from high tree branches to the fence and draping fabric across them. One girl arrived to play with us and initiated a detective game. She announced she was ‘Detective Inspector Whateva’ and wanted to know who had committed a murder, asking us what we’d done the evening before and taking our finger prints- before flipping to being the murderer herself. Other children came out and joined in and we ended playing with about 15 children, mostly girls. The session ended with lots of laughter and running about in 2 teams, one being the thieves who had stolen the fancy dress clothes and the others trying to get them back.

The last square was fairly busy, some older teenagers were hanging about and young boys were gathered round the swing. Our regulars, a brother and sister were watching out their window for us and came out when they saw us arrive, they’re only allowed to play out when supervised and their family are supportive of our sessions. The younger boy always brings out a bag with something to show us, some books or toys and his sister likes to push us on the swing and chatter about her week while testing how high and how long we can swing for that day! A group of 4 boys played at making themselves hammocks hanging from the climbing frame but one of them was being a bit bullied by the others, they undid one corner of his hammock so he fell out. We talked to them about it and helped the boy to build a new hammock when the others left.


1st June ‘10
Today was a rainy day and the session was quiet, with about 8 children. 2 new boys came along who got really over-excited to discover the materials the playworkers had brought, they wanted to use the paint, fabric, glue, bracelet kits, etc straight away and all at once!

Some older boys got involved in a water fight, playfully aiming for the playworkers and were happy when Habiba’s umbrella broke and she had no protection from them!

The session ended when the rain got heavy and all the children headed home.

3rd June ‘10
Today was hot and fairly busy. The session began with 2 boys and ‘Bee’- the girl who is always there first! She seized Rainer as usual and made him into a superstar- Michael Jackson! With tape, she made an ‘M’ on his back and became his stylist, hairdresser, photographer, manager… She began some more serious, darker, dramatic play by acting out Michael Jackson’s death, getting Habiba, Inga and the other children around to discover the body and pretend to cry. She covered the dead body (Rainer!) in fabric and pretended to take photos to sell to the press for lots of money. It was good to see her include other children in her play.

The session ended with race games, the kids paired up and taped themselves together around their torsos and upper legs so they could only run making little footsteps, then playfully pushing each other onto the grass.

4th June ‘10
Today was the launch of the new playground, it went well. As well as playworkers, there were other adults, including youth workers, there doing organised games and circus skills with the kids. PATH playworkers did lots of arts and crafts. As a promotion, we brought cotton bags for children to decorate themselves and then we put leaflets and badges in them for them to take home. One girl created a fantastic story for the drawing she did on her bag. She drew a mushroom with white spots and pinned a ‘PLAY’ badge on it too. She told that the mushroom was an injured army soldier who had lost his memories of play and that the badge was there to replace these memories.

5th June ‘10
We did our first play session on a new area of the estate today- it was excellent, the kids were so happy to be able to come out and play and one said it was the best day of his life! 12 kids came to play out, it was a mixed age range from a 1 year old with his mum to some 14 year olds, the majority were aged between 7-9.

We did chalking on the floor in bright colours, the kids made a game of chalking around each other’s bodies lying on the floor. We also made tissue paper flowers and did some dressing up which turned into just wrapping each other up in fabric and masking tape. The kids made a list of things they would like for their square, including a sandpit, swings, a hammock, a see-saw, planting boxes and 2 dens- 1 for girls and 1 for boys! 2 of the children from this square followed us onto the next, 2 boys stayed with us the whole day round all the areas of the estate and were so proud of themselves at the end of the day!

At our regular square we had lots of swing games. The children created a language for the movements where the swing jolts roughly at the top before swinging back down- “bam bam” and when it gets shaken from side to side- “brang brang”. The kids requested how they wanted the swing to be moved by each other with these words- “I want bam bam”! When we moved onto play in the next area, this continued on the next set of swings.

We also played today at the newly opened play area created by the side of the community hall on the estate. This area felt quite self-sufficient today- groups of children were already there, some with parents. They played football, games on the swings and had a water fight too.

10th June ’10
Today’s session was made up mostly of running games, Inga played ‘It’ with 1 girl for the entire session! We brought along a plastic sheet which was used to make a tent. Some boys had a play fight. One of them had dressed up as a woman for the fight- it was the freest we have ever seen him behave in front of his older brother who’s presence often seemed to restrict his play.

12th June ‘10
In addition to playing in the usual squares on the estate, we had our 2nd play session in the courtyard of an enclosed housing area today. It was busy- the same kids from last week came back and brought new kids along too to play skipping games and draw with the chalk. Inga began some origami with a boy who wanted to make a boat. A dad came over to show us how to make origami football t-shirts too, then the children decorated them as England flags for the football- the estate was plastered in England flags today with world cup fever taking hold!

In another square we built a shelter over the climbing frame for the kids to chat in. One of our regular boys, aged 4, brought a bag of books out with him to ask the playworkers to read with him. Another boy made himself a cape from the fabric and followed us to the next square to play too because he wanted to keep it for as long as possible!

15th June ‘10
We ran a busy session with about 50 kids coming to play out. The wind created a wild atmosphere, the kids ran with a large plastic sheet (4x4m), chasing each other with it and watching it fly behind them. 1 boy with special needs who comes to these sessions was fascinated by the sheet and got immersed in playing with it for a long time where normally he flits quickly between activities.

The chalks were popular again today- children, older teenagers and parents used them together. 1 girl sat learning to knit with Inga for a long time and picked it up quickly.

There was some difficulty again this week with a boy of 9 who often winds up getting violent in his play, he hit Habiba hard in the face. He has done this other weeks too, he seems to have anger issues and not know when to stop. However, he gets upset when other children he has provoked retaliate. When we try to talk to him about his behaviour he puts his chin down and won’t communicate, nor apologise when asked. We’ve decided to try to talk to him as soon as he arrives in next week’s session and let him know it isn’t on before it happens, and to set up a game where he has a non-human target to aim his aggression towards!

17th June ‘10
Today’s session began well, the plastic sheet was used again- 1 boy used it to make a home for a cricket by placing mud and grass on it. Later, some kids played in the wind with the plastic sheet in a similar way the children from the other estate had done on Tuesday- running and chasing each other. However, the feeling of the play changed when a Bengali boy, with whom a group of white children playing with the sheet have an on-going rivalry (which appears racially motivated), joined in the game. 1 of the white girls accused the Bengali boy of trying to suffocate her friend with the sheet. The playworkers on the session did not see this happen, if it did, but the situation escalated into a big verbal argument. The white children left and then returned with their angry grandmother who shouted at the playworkers for 10 minutes, mainly expressing that the plastic sheet wasn’t appropriate for play. She made xenophobic comments to Rainer and Inga (from Germany and Poland)- “Maybe in your country you play with plastic, in England we have toys”! She asked about the playworkers’ CRB checks and threatened to call the police but backed down when they said it was fine for her to call them. The children stayed through this scene and supported the playworkers, 1 boy gestured crazy signs about the lady. The session continued after she left, for a while with a poisoned atmosphere and without the plastic sheet but by the end the session the atmosphere felt lighter and the kids initiated playing with the sheet again.

19th June ‘10
The first square we played at today was especially lively with 3 boys of about 6 wanting to play a dramatic chase game, kids versus playworkers aka humans versus aliens. We chased them to wrap them in fabric, the slide became our spaceship, the bench their base. We were captured and eaten and head-butted into the jail they created for us. As they left, we heard them excitedly tell their mother “we played with adults today”! Meanwhile some quiet games continued round the edges with girls drawing chalk flowers and grinning over at us as the small boys commanded us about.

The enclosed square was also full of chaos with chasing games, children and playworkers dressed up in fabric saris ran across the space. We also made hammocks and taped each other up with coloured duck tape. We covered one end of the area in the tape, trailing it from fences to drainpipes, and hanging tissue paper shapes from it. Eventually the tape was run through and got trampled into messy balls to throw at each other, ‘the naughty tape’. I had a long game of football with a shy 5 year old boy, we didn’t have a ball so we kicked a cardboard tub to each other until we lost in on a roof. One girl told Inga she was so glad we came now as she never went out except to go to school because “there are lots of people out there who want to kill Muslims”. She said they had to keep the square tidy, pointing at the cameras and saying “we’re being watched”. We tidied the tape from the square into a plastic bag which was used for another long game of football at the next square. The rain came down heavily at the end of the session and some boys used our fabric to cover a picnic bench to shelter under for the final half hour.

22nd June ‘10
This session was busy yet somehow quiet, there seemed to be a strange atmosphere with hot, airless weather. Some girls made hats and dresses from the fabric. There was a minor incident- a group of children were on the roundabout- a 6 year old boy, his older brother and some others. They were calling to be pushed faster by the playworkers but as this happened the younger boy slipped off and bit on his lip which started bleeding. His mum was there and the playworkers gave her some sterilised water and an anti-bacterial wipe from the 1st Aid kit and it wasn’t too serious but the mother was upset and left with her children.

24th June ‘10
Today was great with lots of creative games. One boy used the red coloured tape to decorate Rainer with many red crosses, inspired by the England flag, calling it his ‘design’. There was a jumping off the swing game with kids doing this solo or in pairs. It became a competition among the boys to see who could jump off furthest and they got very excited celebrating their victories like sports stars, running round cheering and blowing kisses to an imaginary crowd! The 3 brothers who regularly come were climbing the trees. The older boys could do it very safely but then the younger ones wanted to join in and asked the playworkers for helping getting up but we were unsure if to do this incase they got hurt after we had got them there. Habiba had a black eye today having slipped and fallen against some railings a couple of days ago. Hearing this story made the day of 2 boys who spent the rest of the session re-enacting her fall and laughing their heads off. The same boys later disappeared ‘for a fight’ but we think it was playful as they came back round the corner afterwards grinning.

26th June ‘10
When we arrived at the 1st square, just 1 boy was playing out on his bike, waiting for us. Due to difficulties getting our play materials from their storage today, we just had a box of 20 latex gloves and 3 rolls of coloured tape with us. The boy joined us to blow up the gloves, we drew faces on them making them into monsters. A group of 4 girls joined in and used the tape to mark faces on the gloves, which turned into our putting tape on our own faces like Native-American style war paint. Gradually more kids crept over till we had the most children playing out at this square I’ve seen yet- nearing 20. One girl disappeared to fill her glove with water making a water balloon she aimed successfully at me and suddenly everyone wanted to untie the gloves that were faces and turn them into water balloons. Some boys remembered they had water balloons at home too and suddenly all the kids had them to chuck at us, filling them at a handy outside tap just off from the square.

Having been unarmed for the last water fight, we decided to turn up at the next square with our own water balloons purchased from the local shop! We shared them out with the kids there and this session turned into one massive water fight. The water balloons didn’t last too long and we were only wet in patches until a group of about 8 boys from 9- 13ish came out their houses with big bottles! They filled these at an outside tap, we managed to get some bottles too and everyone ended up totally drenched to the skin. It was great that the water fight brought out more of the older boys who hadn’t joined our sessions yet. Younger children came to watch, hovering at the edges a bit intimidated by the roughness of the play yet mesmerised by it, along with those trying not to get wet. The square was also the busiest it’s been yet with about 30 children coming out.

The final squares were quieter with just a few of our regular kids. Passing through the square at points was a water fight between 2 gangs. This felt uncomfortable- a gang of white kids versus a group of Asian lads. One girl threw water bombs at 2 play workers, trying to provoke an angry reaction which she didn’t get and some younger girls whispered to me she bullies them on the swing if they’re on it when she comes by.

During today’s session, an upset, elderly resident of the estate came to complain about chalk graffiti on the walls. He believed we were responsible for having inspired it by giving the kids coloured chalks to draw on the ground with and angrily demanded who we thought would clean it up. (The graffiti was football related- ‘Portugal Rules’!) Whilst he left saying he knew he had done worse as a kid himself the situation didn’t feel resolved and it was difficult for us to find the balance between trying to get him onside and yet not accept we were responsible to scrub the walls.