KidsZone • London

Tuesday 31st October 2006
Oxford House, Tower Hamlets

The East London Play Conference (PATH)

“Where do the children play…?”

How is children's play perceived these days? How much has it changed over the years? Have children forgotten how to play? These were a few of the questions asked at the Play Association of Tower Hamlets (PATH) conference held in Oxford House.

The event ‘kicked off’ with a balloon game. Although, anyone who has contact with ‘play workers’ know that they are generally a great bunch of people who have very little difficulty ‘communicating’ or ‘breaking the ice’. This did set the mood of the day-long conference which, although was about play did identify and highlight serious issues about the kind of society we now all live in.

Exposing the myth

The keynote speaker was Marc Armitage - a ‘migrant play worker from the People's Republic of Yorkshire’. He gave a lively presentation that identified where children play and how ingenious and creative children (still) are in what they do. His presentation effectively raised the dilemma of restrictive Health and Safety rules that merely impinge on children's activities and argued that, inevitably, over protection would be detrimental to children's learning and understanding of the world. He also exposed the unfounded negativity that is emanating from ‘grown-ups’ who, rather than use their sense, are increasingly convinced by news reports that all children are vandals and up to no good.

Of the images he presented that fixed in my mind are those of a play ground slide ‘packed’ with sand and of rows of kids hovering over a long narrow drain in their school playground. Both of the events were seen by ‘grown ups’ as kids being vandals and up to no good!!! But on looking again one could only see children's delightful sense of fun and collective creativity.

Playing by their own rules

Marc spends a lot of time documenting our environment - searching for clues as to where and how children play. He compared the sanitized, sterile and generally devoid of children ‘play grounds’ that are springing up wherever ‘urban regeneration’ projects prevail with the hidden ramshackle environments that the kids build for themselves and enthusiastically inhabit. They invent their own games that are complex and have rules children understand - dismissing the notion that children have forgotten how to play.

His message was clear - children are creative, physically active, and on the whole good. It is the ‘grown ups’ who have sadly forgotten these qualities.

Useful Seminars

There were a number of seminars and work shop sessions where delegates could discuss with ‘experts’ different aspect of play, development strategies, projects, and how local authority play policies are informed. The afternoon sessions continued on these themes with an added element of “Neuro Linguistic Programming” - a fascinating introduction to play and cognition given by Gordon Sturrock.

Other workshops dealt with changing identities, and misconceptions of different cultures - to overcome this the participants dressed up as a ‘cultural’ heroes from another community (in this instance - Muslim) so as to develop empathy with that community - other workshops included turning ‘rubbish’ into interesting objects and looking into inventive ways to play.

The day long event was interesting, and well managed by Rachel Murray, the outgoing Director of PATH. It was full to bursting with information, good ideas and an opportunity to share the experiences of play workers and the knowledge of an excellent line up of speakers and facilitators: Meynell Walters, Penny Wilson, Suzannah Walker, Jo Moon, Chris Taylor, Nick Jackson, Cathy O'Leary, Marc Armitage, Allan Sutton, Gordon Sturrock and Mohima Kamaly.

For more information contact:
Glenys Tolley (PATH Director) 020 7729 3306
or see:

Click here to view the image library from this event

written by Jenni Boswell-Jones
(KidsZone • London)