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The Play Return Day 44

A review from yesterday if you are just starting now:

Play Drive: All play begins with the play drive that is the instinctive desire and need to play.

Play Cue: From this drive the child may produce an action which can be very subtle or very obvious. An invitation to their play.

Sometimes kids misinterpret each other's cues as do we.

A mom came to pick up her child and brought him a water bottle. He ran back to the playground and began to use it like a water pistol. He looked around for someone to engage in his new game. He caught and maintained eye contact with a young girl from his class. They both knew they had committed to playing something from this exchange (Eye contact was the cue). Maybe his intention was to spray her while hers was to make sure she didn't get sprayed. (Story from

To find out more about what happened in this exchange read tomorrow's blog on: What is the Play Return?

What is the Play Return?

The play return is the response or feedback the child gets in return to their play cue. This response can come by a child, by a playworker, by the environment, by oneself.

In Reflective Playwork by Ali Wood and Jacky Klivington they state: “Without a satisfactory return the play will never get going. Some children do not cue effectively and they become frustrated because their cues are ignored by others or their mind does not become sufficiently taken up with the possibilities of play. (pg41).” There are also times that the return is not satisfactory to the child as they were looking for a different return and then the play will not begin with that person.

Back to the story:

Once the boy and girl made eye contact the boy was certain this was an agreement to play and she understood the cue. There was a mutual agreement to this game. The girl broke eye contact and began running away and screaming. The boy thought “ she is loving this” and wants to be chased and squirted”. The play ended abruptly when the girl ran to the teacher crying in effort to avoid the splashes of water being shot her way. And the boy was scolded by both his mom and teacher.

However, if we were to reexamine this story. The boy misinterpreted the girl's screaming and running away as the play return. He did not see her facial expression and therefore could not interpret.

But even if he had? There are many times when kids begin playing and they are running away from a chaser, saying no but also smiling. As adults we can mostly interpret the intonation of the voice and understand if they want to be chased. But kids don’t always have the ability to interpret this.

I often simply ask: you are running away and saying no but you are also smiling- do you want to play this game or not? I bring awareness to them on how their reaction may be misinterpreted. I say things like: say what you want or tell them what you want (especially if I see this often happening with a specific child)

To ask a child to find out mid game would ruin the flow and possibly even cause the game to end. Instead, I model to the one being chased to provide clear play returns. Through play the kids become better at interpreting these social instances.

The boy had no idea what he did wrong. He thought they were playing. “It is like describing a universal expressive language that children use when they play and as with all languages we can learn the simpler aspects quite easily but it takes time and practice to become fluent and really understand its meanings.” Oxfordshire County Council.

Another reason Play is beneficial- we learn to interpret cues and returns more accurately. But again, play is beneficial just for the sake of play. When you learn how important play is to our health, well- being, development and learning you get somewhat addicted to the idea that this is how childhood should be- always!

Inspire. Play Explore.

Hope you enjoyed this snippet into playwork.

Watch video. 10 points will be awarded to whomever tells me who is Rosie Queen of Corona? (reddit isn't good enough)

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