Supporting play


Providing for play involves giving children the time, space and independence to play in their own way and on their own terms. Children can play anywhere – at the bus stop, in the supermarket, in the car, at the park, in school, at home, at the beach and so on. Children will play with or without equipment and materials, with others, or on their own.

Staff can support children’s play in all settings where children typically attend. By providing a wide range of opportunities and possibilities for play in rich and supportive environments, adults can support play that meets the play needs of those attending. Playworkers support play that is led by children. They provide children with a space to be themselves and to play in the ways in which they want and need to. Playworkers plan for play, observe, and reflect on what they see. This reflective practice is then used to plan for more play, enabling children to extend their own play experience.

Those who work with children and young people should provide a rich play environment, create play opportunities, and build relationships. By understanding the nature and importance of all aspects of children’s play, we can protect the space where children play and extend this play to meet children’s play needs.

Playworkers see children and young people as competent individuals. They understand the need for children to encounter and create uncertainty and challenge as part of their play.

PlayBoard’s Way to Play publication includes a section dedicated to play practitioners and appendices which include information on range of important areas including the Playwork Principles.

Playwork Approach

Playwork Principles

The Playwork Principles establish the professional and ethical framework for playwork. They describe what is unique about play and playwork, and provide the playwork perspective for working with children and young people.

Playwork Approach

Playwork Principles

Play Principle 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.

Play Principle 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.

Play Principle 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.

Play Principle 4

For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas.

Play Principle 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.

Play Principle 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.

Play Principle 7

Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people’s play on the playworker.

Play Principle 8

Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well-being of children.

The Playwork Principles were developed by the Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group, Cardiff 2005.

play recommendations

Seven Play Objectives

Best Play sets out seven play objectives that it recommends any provision should meet if aiming to offer children good play opportunities. It focuses on the benefits that children gain from their play and the role that your service has in creating spaces and services that allow those benefits (defined as ‘outcomes’ of play provision) to be achieved. It looks at play provision from the point of view of children’s needs and wishes in relation to their play.

Play recommendations

Seven Play Objectives

Play Objective 1

The provision extends the choice and control that children have over their play, the freedom they enjoy and the satisfaction they gain from it.

Play Objective 2

The provision recognises the child’s need to test boundaries and responds positively to that need.

Play Objective 3

The provision manages the balance between the need to offer risk and the need to keep children safe from harm.

Play Objective 4

The provision maximises the range of play opportunities.

Play Objective 5

The provision fosters independence and self-esteem.

Play Objective 6

The provision fosters children’s respect for others and offers opportunities for social interaction.

Play Objective 7

The provision fosters the child’s well-being, healthy growth and development, knowledge and understanding, creativity and capacity to learn.

The 7 Play Objectives were developed by the NPFA (Best Play, 2000).

Bob Hughes’s

The Play Types

These play types were developed by Bob Hughes and are used by adults to help describe the different ways children play.

They can be used to help plan for play, recognise play preferences and possible gaps in provision being offered.

This is not an exhaustive list of play types.

Bob Hughes’s

The 16 Play Types

Symbolic Play

Play which allows control, gradual exploration and increased understanding without the risk of being out of one’s depth.

Rough & Tumble Play

Close encounter play which is less to do with fighting and more to do with touching, tickling, gauging relative strength. Discovering physical flexibility and the exhilaration of display.

Socio-dramatic Play

The enactment of real and potential experiences of an intense personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature.

Social Play

Play during which the rules and criteria for social engagement and interaction can be revealed, explored and amended.

Creative Play

Play which allows a new response, the transformation of information, awareness of new connections, with an element of surprise.

Communication Play

Play using words, nuances or gestures for example, mime, jokes, play acting, mickey taking, singing, debate, poetry.

Dramatic Play

Play which dramatizes events in which the child is not a direct participator.

Deep Play

Play which allows the child to encounter risky experiences and conquer fear like heights, snakes and creepy crawlies.

Exploratory Play

Play to access factual information consisting of manipulative behaviours such as handling, throwing, banging or mouthing objects.

Fantasy Play

Play which rearranges the world in the child’s way, a way which is unlikely to occur.

Imaginative Play

Play where the conventional rules, which govern the physical world, do not apply.

Locomotor Play

Movement in any or every direction for its own sake.

Mastery Play

Control of the physical and affective ingredients of the environments.

Object Play

Play which uses infinite and interesting sequences of hand-eye manipulations and movements.

Role Play

Play exploring ways of being, although not normally of an intense personal, social, domestic or interpersonal nature.

Recapitulative Play

Play that allows the child to explore ancestry, history, rituals, stories, rhymes, fire and darkness. Enables children to access play of earlier human evolutionary stages.

Devised by Bob Hughes, published in full in ‘A playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types’ (PLAYLINK, second edition 2002).
Available from PlayEducation, 13 Castelhythe, Ely, Cambs CB7 4BU.
Play types images courtesy of Play Scotland.