â€ś Profession / Occupation / Playwork is a highly skilled profession that enriches and enhances childrenÂ’s play. It takes place where adults support childrenÂ’s play but it is not driven by prescribed education or care outcomes. â€ž
My job title is 'Playworker'
'What is a Playworker?' Unless you work in Childcare you are probably unfamiliar with this term. A Playworker is someone who provides opportunities for children's play, and enhances and enriches their play experience. In a nutshell.
Playworkers can be found in all sorts of settings - adventure playgrounds, soft play centres, holiday clubs and out of school care settings. I am based in the latter. In case you don't know an out of school care (or OSC) is a centre where children can go before and after school if their parents are working early/late The OSC I work in is open from 7.30-9am, then 3pm-6pm. We have a registered number of children due to come in every week day. Some parents only need us in the morning, some only in the afternoon, and some don't need us every day. Of course as a setting we are flexible if parent's need unexpected childcare cover (so long as we are under the maximum number of children we are allowed in the centre on that day) We also open most holidays.
Sounds a bit like an easy gig right? I get paid to play games with your children. Well I'd be lying if I said it was the most strenuous job ever, but of course working with children (in my case children age 5-12) means there is a huge responsibility to keep them safe from harm. Not only within the OSC, but also if we suspect that they may be suffering from abuse outwith our setting. All Playworkers should attend Child Protection training at least every two years. There are many training courses a Playworker is expected to attend. In my workplace we are ALL expected to attend: Child Protection, Infection Control, Food Hygiene, First Aid and Respect Me training. There are also extra courses that we can attend like Arts & Crafts, Physical Play, Managing Children's Behaviour, Special Needs, etc. These courses run alongside the fact that we must be trained, or be working towards, SVQ level 2 and 3 in Playwork. In my setting we are not paid for these extra hours training, but we do get TOIL (time off in lieu) time for training that we do (excluding the SVQs, these have to be done in our own time - which is fair enough)
As well as all the training there is so much paperwork we have to do considering the length of time the children spend with us on any given day. Indoor risk assessments, outdoor risk assessments, outing risk assessments, planning snack, planning activities, minutes of meetings (with staff and with children), accident forms, incident forms, evaluation of the morning session, evaluation of the afternoon session, evaluation and reflection of activities, parent's questionnaires, children's questionnaires, resource lists, log of broken equipment, children's feedback, etc. All this is used as evidence to our governing body, The Care Inspectorate, to prove that we provide a good service and are following all relevant legislation. We need to be able to prove that we are doing the things we say we are, and the only way to do it is to document everything. However having so much paperwork to fill out daily really takes away from the time we get to spend with the children. There is much more paperwork that needs to be done now than there was seven years ago when I became a Playworker, and it's only looking like it'll be getting worse.
So even something that might seem like glorified babysitting has a lot of training and paperwork involved. You'd think the fact that Playworkers go through this training would mean a decent paycheck, right? Wrong. I am qualified to level 3 in Childcare, Learning and Development - my pay is marginally better (I'm talking a few pennies) than minimum wage. This is the one big drawback of the job. I can deal with an excess of paperwork, not getting to spend as much time with the kids as I'd like (though it's very frustrating) and all the training we need to do, the occasional cheeky child - but the wage is really poor. It's what's going to make me leave the job I love eventually as I'd really love to start my own family and at the moment it's just not possible. With the cost of childcare on the rise parents are outraged, and rightfully so, but just know that it's not going on the people who look after your children on a day to day basis. For the most part we are struggling financially too.
Now that I've told you the bad, let's get to the good. I love my job. I really do, though it may not sound like it. My role as Playworker is to provide the opportunity for children to play, learn, have fun, explore, take risks and be captivated by their surroundings. How great is that?! My co-workers and I work hard to make sure there is always a wide variety of resources and activities on offer. There are adult led activities like baking and structured arts and crafts. There are child led activities. We encourage freeplay where children choose what they want to play with, and how they want to use the resources (so long as they are not hurting others) It is always a joy to watch the children having fun, using their imaginations, laughing, forming friendships and bonding with staff. I take great pride in ensuring that the children are safe and happy. That is my main concern, despite all the other roles I must take on as a Playworker.
Another thing I love about my job is that no two days are the same. Some days I'm counsellor to an upset child, some days I'm cheerleader to a child struggling to grasp their homework, some days I'm on a safari hunt tracking lions and zebras with a group of children, some days I'm forced to remind children about the rules and why their behaviour is not appropriate (not my favourite role, I have to say, but a necessary one), some days I'm leading a tricky paper weaving activity, some days I'm merely a facilitator watching their play but not interfering. It is important to be able to take on many roles, depending on what is needed at any given moment. Sometimes children don't want any adult intervention during play, so it is vital to follow their play cues, and take instruction from them. They'll soon let you know if they want to include you.
In my opinion a good Playworker is someone who is empathetic and can understand children's individual needs. Someone who has a sense of fun, and doesn't take themselves too seriously. Someone who respects all children in their care, and treats them equally and fairly. Someone who is patient, and doesn't get too flustered explaining to a child the reasoning behind club rules. Someone who genuinely listens to the children and their concerns, and takes them seriously. Someone who allows children to partake in risky play while knowing how to keep them safe.
Playwork can be very rewarding. Gaining a child's trust and watching children grown from little five year olds, to opinionated twelve year olds is an absolute joy. The children themselves aid me in gaining skills, and understanding how to do a better job. I am so grateful for the relationships I have forged with the children, and indeed their parents and my co-workers, who are fantastic by the way. This is what keeps me going during times of frustration and low morale, because children are able to unintentionally put a smile on your face. They all keep me sane.
Of course there are days where children manage to rile you. They don't listen, or they are constantly arguing with another child. It is then that you must remain professional and talk to the children (calmly, mind! No shouting allowed) about the situation. Sometimes dealing with negative behaviour is as simple as a look, or a funny comment that lets them know that they've crossed a boundary ( For example one of the children in my care particularly likes it when I ask him jokingly 'Are we going to fall out today?' It tickles him, and the negative behaviour usually stops after that) Other times sitting a child down and discussing their behaviour is more apt. Very occasionally my OSC issues a time out, this is always to allow a child to calm down if they are angry rather than used as a 'punishment'
If you are interested in Playwork as a career then I hope this article has been of use to you. I have tried to be as fair and unbiased as I can. Outlining the good, and the bad of the job.