Thinking About Playwork


A five day professional development programme for experienced playwork practitioners, managers and development workers . Thinking About Playwork is offered by the University of Gloucestershire and seeks to increase and update knowledge and understanding of play, playwork and quality play provision.

The programme provides a foundation for understanding and developing a playwork approach to working with children in adult organised play settings. It is based on the Manchester Circles model (Lester and Russell, 2002) that currently informs ‘Quality in Play’ (Play England, 2010) and covers how understandings of play influence all aspects of organisational policies and practices. This programme builds on an earlier programme and materials developed in 2010 by Playwork London, Stuart Lester and Wendy Russell.

The Thinking About Playwork Programme

The programme consists of five full-day workshops (5 hours per session), with time between each of these sessions to apply principles, concepts and tools into practice. It can stand alone as an opportunity for practitioners to renew, reaffirm, reflect and reconfigure their understanding and practice. The content also covers the underpinning knowledge for the Level 4 Award in Playwork and many of the learning outcomes for the Level 5 Diploma in Playwork.

The overall aim of the programme is to introduce some key ideas about the nature of children’s play and the purpose of play settings, and to use these to look at current provision, recognising areas of good practice, constraints and areas that could possibly be developed further. As such, all sessions will be practice-based and ‘playful’ in approach and are designed around the ‘Manchester Circles’, a model for playwork organisations that is introduced in the opening workshop. A summary of the sessions is given below:

Participants must:

1. Make a commitment to attend all workshops and participate in collecting ‘evidence’ using the tools developed in the sessions.

2. Participate in post-programme follow-up activities (online and face-to-face) that consider ways of developing playwork communities of practice to support on-going learning and development.

We would recommend that where possible a minimum of two workers from each setting attend in order to support each other when looking at current practice in settings and to introduce change.


This can be negotiated and will depend on whether the programme is a stand-alone programme, whether further online support is desired for supporting communities of practice, or whether participants wish to undertake an assessment for gaining CATS points towards a HE qualification.

Workshop 1 – The playing child: focuses on the primary purpose of play provision by paying attention to understandings of play and the implications of this for developing attractive play environments.

Workshop 2 – The role of the playworker: considers how adult practices may support or constrain the conditions under which children can play. This session will (re)introduce the Playwork Principles and the role of the playworker in co-creating attractive play environments.

Workshop 3 – Planning for play: considers how best use is made of available resources to support play. Attention will be given to the design of the environment using a number of planning tools that are intended to open up rather than constrain possibilities for play.

Workshop 4 – The human environment for play: explores how organisations can promote and develop a ‘playful atmosphere’ in the setting. This will focus on adult-child interactions and the level of support and care given to children to support the co-creation of play within the environment. It will explore issues of children’s rights and children’s participation in play settings .

Workshop 5 – The organisational framework: this final session will draw together the key themes developed over the previous workshops to consider how they are embedded into organisational policies. Particular attention will be given to the development of a ‘play policy’, which should be the centrepiece for the organisation and inform other policies such as risk-benefit assessment and expectations of behaviour for adults and children.

Each workshop introduces specific tools that can be applied in the setting to generate materials to help review existing playwork practice and identify ways of improving the support given to children’s play. These materials collectively would form the basis for developing continuous review of provision and would provide valuable support for a Quality in Play portfolio, Ofsted inspections, or as a basis for clear information to parents, carers and external agencies about the nature and value of the provision.

Further information:
Stuart Lester,
Senior Lecturer in Play and Playwork,
University of Gloucestershire

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