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play and playwork

Out of school care has the largest number of services providing organised play opportunities for school-age children in Scotland. OSC services are committed to promoting and supporting the UNCRC and, article 31: the child's right to culture, leisure, rest and play is central to all services.

In recent years, within academia, there has been an increased focus on play- what is it, why do children play, and what are the benefits of play? Although in many respects it is still a young field of study, there are currently a number of accepted theories in the UK surrounding play; these theories have influenced thinking and 'playwork': the professional sector associated with play.

What is play?

In simple terms it is seen to be an innate biological action by all children to have fun, which subsequently enhances their development and wellbeing physically, psychologically and socially.

Play types

Play has many different forms, Bob Hughes, a play practitioner and researcher has identified 15 accepted play types: social, socio-dramatic, rough-and-tumble, exploratory, object, creative, communication, deep, recapitulative, symbolic, fantasy, dramatic, imaginative, locomotor, mastery and role play - when children play they may demonstrate one or some of these types in their activities.

What is important to recognise is that children play in a variety of ways and play services should provide opportunities for children to explore different kinds of play. So, in terms of out of school care only providing board games would not be a valuable play experience; but providing board games in conjunction with dressing up costumes, skipping ropes, balls, dolls/figures, arts/crafts materials, den-building materials etc would be.

"Edge of Chaos" Play Theory

Sometimes parents or other adults walking into an out of school care service think that it is chaotic. In terms of "edge of chaos" theory (Battram & Russell) there are 2 states to play separated by a fine line. In one there is order in the apparent chaos and in the other, there is only chaos where children may feel, or are, intimidated/endangered by the lack of order. It is the role of the workers to ensure that play remains on the side of order.


As stated above 'playwork' is the term used to refer to the professional sector supporting children's play- this includes out of school care services, adventure playgrounds, play ranger services in parks etc.

Workers within out of school care services often are referred to as 'playworkers', and as workers in a care service, they must have an appropriate qualification according to their job status for registration with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC). In out of school care many workers have a qualification in Playwork.

Playwork Qualifications

Many out of school care workers have Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQ) in Playwork. In terms of registration with the SSSC workers must either be registered as a Lead Practitioner (Manager/Co-ordinator), Practitioner or Support Worker. Although Lead Practitioners now have to be qualified to, or working towards, a Level 9 in Childhood Practice, many additionally have an SVQ 4 in Playwork. Practitioners are required to have an SVQ 3 in Playwork (or acceptable equivalent), and Support Workers are required to have an SVQ 2 in Playwork (or acceptable equivalent).

SVQs are qualifications which workers undertake when in employment. The Playwork SVQ covers such topics as: develop and maintain a healthy and safe environment for children; develop and promote positive relationship; plan and support self-directed play; reflect on and develop practice; contribute to children's health and well being; work with parents and carers; administer playwork provision, and develop opportunities in the community.

Workers can undertake SVQs through local colleges or independent training providers; the Childhood Practice Award (Level 9) can either be completed as a BA through specific Scottish universities or as a PDA Level 9 through accredited colleges and training providers. For further information on the childhood practice award, please see:

Many local authorities fund the cost of qualifications.

The Playwork Principles

The Playwork Principles were endorsed by Skillsactive in May 2005; in essence they promote play centred on the child's needs and wants, and not following a play agenda led by adults. Playworkers have a duty to support and enable positive play opportunities for children but where and when direct intervention is required then this must be undertaken with sensitivity and care.

"These Principles establish the professional and ethical framework for playwork and as such must be regarded as a whole. They describe what is unique about play and playwork, and provide the playwork perspective for working with children and young people. They are based on the recognition that children and young people's capacity for positive development will be enhanced if given access to the broadest range of environments and play opportunities.

  1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.
  2. Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests in their own way for their own reasons.
  3. The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.
  4. For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas.
  5. The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.
  6. The playworker's response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up to date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.
  7. Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people's play on the playworker.
  8. Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention myst balance risk with the developmental benefit and well being of children."

(Endorsed by Skillsactive, May 2008)

Whilst SOSCN fully endorses the Playwork Principles we would additionally state that it is the duty of out of school care services to introduce children to new play opportunities and experiences- children's choice should not be limited by their experience and understanding. New experiences and opportunities must be introduced in order to expand children's choice and ultimately their development.

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