Recently I posted a blog about play designers. When asked what I do, rather than say an artist which is what I consider myself, I often reply that I am a designer of play systems. By eschewing the business of art I am not alone. My inspiration in this comes primarily from Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaist who sought to promote art as a state of mind rather than a product. So, how can I claim to be an artist without being actively involved with the art world? I look at the elements of the system as only a scaffold and the artistic expression actually the resulting play of children.
I think of Penny Wilson as a visual artist who’s graphics are top notch, however, Penny prefers to be known as a playworker. In her work she uses her deep knowledge of child development to create stages with props arranged in such as way as the produce spontaneous play. What I find most intriguing is her use of fabric and the resulting “play happenings” are so much like dancing in the air. Here is how she explains the process that she uses at her adventure play program, Playkx, in England.
Playkx was designed as a play offer in the Kings Cross development area that was not a built play environment. Instead of timber or steel structures there is a team of experienced and skilled Playworkers and a vast collection of loose parts, playthings to be used in any way that children need. There are dressing up clothes, masks, nets, ropes fabrics, blocks, animal creatures, artificial plants and flowers, all of which can be used for dressing up, the construction of a den, sociodramatic playing of the creation of wild and wonderful fantasy worlds. Nothing is fixed. Everything is flexible.
Like most programs for children these days Playkx needs to fundraise. Penny has come up with an ingenious Kickstarter campaign “Play Things” . The essence of the fundraiser are “Kits” comprised of many of the elements that are used in her program. The kits can be used to transform any static space into play a magical play space
What has really captured my attention is the use of the kit to transform traditional playgrounds. In the Gymboree Play and Music system we use loose parts as an integral part of the play environment. Indeed, most of the play apparatus can be reconfigured spontaneously. The result is that every visit to a Gymbo class is a new and exciting learning opportunity. This vitality is possible because each child is accompanied by a caregiver. Because park departments can’t be certain of this supervision in public parks, loose part play has never been part of such environments and the result is greatly diminished play complexity and much shorter play episodes.
Enter now the Play Things Kits! Take a look at https://www.instagram.com/p/CIDHv6wHUUM/
As you can see from the video you saw at the link, the paraphernalia in the kit transforms the play structure into a fairy land of adventure. Since these play props are removed when the children leave, there is no reasonable objection to their use.
This is truly a disruptive idea that I hope catches on. I tried to get a similar process started with a range of concrete tables called Finger Parks that kids could use as a venue for match-box toys. It didn’t catch on because the park planners just didn’t get the concept. Penny’s approach will work as it expands a now common practice of bringing sand toys to the park. Well, that was common, but with the increasing loss of sand on playgrounds, it looks like the idea of play kits can make this a popular choice.
The Kickstarter Playkx campaign is specifically limited to their current needs. I hope and expect to see this idea gain traction as the threat of COVID-19 diminishes and the use of parks gets back to normal. Indeed, I fully anticipate outdoor play to become far more popular after the prolonged sheltering in place that kids have had to endure.