– or what we mean when we say what we’re saying.

Words, terms and theories are referenced, expanded upon and thrown around in so many different ways we thought that an explanation would be useful of some of our favorites and what we mean by them. We hope that these words and ideas will help start or inform conversations about play and warm the sea we’re all swimming in.

Compensatory Environments – This refers to the idea that designed play spaces ought to be site-specific, fulfilling a local need by increasing the diversity of experiences available in the area.  In an inner-city area of tall tower blocks, of straight roads and postage stamp greens, of stark lines and sharp corners and concrete, a compensatory environment might offer flowing water.  It might offer curving green lines and soft shapes that encourage touch, that are restful to the eye and enlivening to the mind.  A compensatory play space might offer trees for clambering up in a neighbourhood of ‘Anti-Climb Paint’, flowers amongst the tarmac, or twinkling fairy lights and bells hanging from above in a landscape dominated by CCTV cameras and floodlights.  Through providing a considered alternative, compensatory play environments do more than offer children what had previously been lacking.  They demonstrate that an alternative environment is possible.

Compensatory environments can also be attitudinal, allowing children to play across artificial boundaries of age or ability, to view adults as playful, or simply to engage in behaviours such as climbing which are prohibited in other places. By giving play physical and cultural space in which to thrive, we prove to children that play, and by extension the needs and pleasures of childhood, have value. All children need play, and playspaces that are designed to be inclusive of children with disabilities make a superior play offer to everyone. The breadth of consideration that brings multi-sensory elements such as bells, chimes, edible plantings and textural variation enhances the play opportunities for all children, respecting and providing for their individual differences and celebrating the ‘quirky’ over the ‘cool’.

Derive or Drift – We have Guy Debord and his Situationist friends to thank for this.  Drift is a way to approach the whole of everyday life through the open-minded and passive wandering through space.  The idea is to experience one’s surroundings fully and sensorially, to allow oneself to be attracted to or repelled by different elements, to flow through the spaces and register one’s reactions to them.  This can be documented through such techniques as map-making, collage, or richly textured writing that evokes a sense of particularity of place, its ever-evolving ambiance and character.

The term flaneur was developed by Baudelaire to describe a person (at the time, exclusively a man) engaged in this process of Drift. The term can be roughly translated as “stroller”, and describes a detached but aesthetically engaged pedestrian. The archetypal flaneur is so comfortable in his urban surroundings that he wears them like clothing. He is adaptive and creative in his movements through the city, transforming a wall to a writing desk, and in strolling the city he experiences it fully. Sadly the feminine term, flanneuse, functions the same as the English equivalent, turning “stroller of the streets” into “street walker”. We at Play Times think this is a term work re-inventing!

Edible fencing – Rather than the conventional playspace boundary lines of hooped fencing or wire mesh, hedges and dense bushes can create a living, green physical and cognitive demarcation of space.  If it’s edible, with such plants as sage, blackberries, runnerbeans, rosehips and so on, then the play value increases dramatically as children can experiment with foraging behaviors to enjoy the variety of flavours and textures available, and make ‘potions’ and dyes.  Edible fencing creates a natural, inclusive and vibrant boundary marker that changes with the seasons, bringing nature to the playspace and encouraging play as a means of exploration of nature.

Inclusivity – All human beings have needs which are ‘special’.  By broadening our ideas about play and by listening to the variety of people we meet we have the opportunity to create and share places where everyone can feel safe, welcome and considered.  All children need play; all children need access to the rich diversity of play that is creative, varied, risky, experimental, social, loud, quiet, mobile, pensive, exciting and peaceful.  Places that support individual exploration of different ways of being are good for everybody. In the Playwork Principles there is support for the argument that places that consider a variety of needs offer a richer play offer for all children, supporting the widest possible range of impulses and making social, not merely physical, inclusion a reality.

Liminal spaces – These are the threshold spaces between one place and another, between one way of being and another.  These are spaces of transition and fluidity, of poetry and dreaming.  The seashore, Narnia’s wardrobe, stepping stones that move beneath a screen of branches, these can all be seen as liminal spaces.  This sense of change, of marvelous and strange possibility, is a vital stimulus to play.

For a longer consideration of the term and some possible applications, look at Penny’s post here.

Ludic – From the Latin Ludos, meaning playful, this refers to philosophies or strategies which have play as their primary concern.

Playable spaces – spaces that are not explicitly play spaces but through their design and management encourage and facilitate a range of play behaviours.  These places invite play, and in them play is a legitimate activity.  This idea moves play further still from fixed-equipment ghettos and relocates it throughout public space.  Playable spaces may be large or small, discrete or transitional spaces, but what they have in common is a ludic sensibility that invites people of all ages and abilities to use play as a form of engagement, with the site itself and with one another.

Psychogeography – Although the term was first coined by Guy Debord in 1955, I prefer Joseph Hart’s definition from the Utne Reader: “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities…just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.”  The most important of these strategies is Derive, translated as Drift.

Playwork Principles – The Playwork Principles form the basis of playwork.  Originating from the belief that all children need play, that this play ought to be determined by them and according to their own needs, the Principles locate the playworker as facilitator of this process.  They can be found in their entirety here.

Play Types – Play can take a variety of forms, which Bob Hughes organized for the ease of adult theorists into a list of types.  With explanations of such types of play as socio-dramatic, rough and tumble and deep play, this list is a must for anyone interested in children’s play.  The list itself is taken from his book A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types and can be found here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s