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Study Tour 2012


See gallery for pictures from this tour.

Before thoughts…

Tomorrow a small group of 6 all with the passion for play is of to ‘Treasure Island’ also known as Ireland to hopefully experience different play opportunities and the way others work within the play sector. The group made up of some who have met in person and others who have experienced one of the wonders of modern technology and managing to fit in during their busy days over skype to chat away.

The study tour will give time to both visit play spaces and experience the culture the Irish are so well known for…Irish dancing and with such great timing hopefully get to see the passion the Irish hold for the football (Euro 2012).Having heard that Ireland have recently put in alot of money into play I’m looking to come back with a fresh head, the knowledge of others culture whether the opportunities vary or are similar.

A short story…

The poo stained brown trunk had some pants hanging of it with a picture of spongebob on them. The green bath with alot of butter, was mint sented because the pants were so smelly (even the smellest flower couldn’t mask it). Daisys are pretty but have no smell, as a headband they do look well with frissy ends and bends!

Enroute to Dublin via Plane:

As my first experience of flying I was rather excited by the aspect of making to those clouds that I’ve only ever laid and watched go by above my head. Once at the Gatwick airport after a short trip on the train I began lookout for other people who looked slightly playworker style, which is was easier than I thought as I had met 2 of the others in our group before. Once met up with Eve and then Lynne, we began to look for Sarah and Nick. As planned Sarah rang when she arrived at Gatwick and conversation went backwards and forwards discussing clothing and backpack style so we knew what to look for, at the same time Lynne was having a the conversation with Nick Yay, we had found Sarah and then shortly followed by recognizing Nick’s leather jacket. With Lily coming the following day we were ready for our travels to begin and go through the security checks to board our plane.  As it became closer to boarding I was getting nervously excited, but knowing that the others had flown before I went with the flow. When on the plane others in the group commented on how bumpy the take-off was which I could only describe as banger racing, but it was so exciting. As we got higher and higher I took the opportunity to look out the window and the first thoughts I got was of watching Peter Pan jumping from cloud to cloud, this made me giggle abit and began to share the thought with Lynne. Next to Lynne and Myself was a Dubliner herself who explained she had moved from Denmark when she was 14, after hearing her thoughts on play in both countries which from what she remembered Denmark was ‘magic’ amazing for play whereas from what she had seen Ireland was not up with them. We explained we were hoping to see lots and hopefully after hearing money had been spent to uphold some play in different parts of Ireland we were looking forward to be able to comparing and taking ideas back. The Irish lady told stories of different places to visit, one that jumped out was the farmers market on a Sunday where young people would go down and buy horses for as little as 10 euro. After getting of the plane we began ‘accidently’ racing along the travellator between ourselves and then I spotted a couple of children, I raced up and ‘I’ll race you’ of I went but got nothing back apart from a confused look, the dad who was close by said to his son ‘she just wanted to race you’ the sister with them smiled having realised what I was doing.

We had arrived after an hour to surprisingly sunny Dublin and found our bus to the B&B where we would spend most of the following week in, the adventure had started!

The day after yesterday:

It was the Sunday and we had decided to go to somewhere called ‘Loath’ and with no idea of where we were going we asked Patricia the lovely lady who worked reception in the B&B  who gave us directions to somewhere to Balbriggan on the train which was about half hour journey. We got to the station after waiting past but managing to comment on how lovely the building was. We gathered together and with Lynne taking the mother role she got the tickets to where we thought we were going, whilst this was going on I began to look at the train times and with about 45 minutes to spare we decided a cup of tea was in order which turned out to be the best cupper of the week. Once on the train we got chatting and were overheard by a lady sitting opposite with her daughter travelling in the same direction, the lady who told us there was nothing at Balbriggan including for those who live there and even those travel out. We were advised to get off at the next stop and grab another train back which we did and after another couple of trains we finally ended up in Howth where we wanted to get to. A short walk away from the station and we arrived at the harbour, a beautiful open public space full of tourists just like ourselves and people out to make a trade with their own restaurants and pubs. Going for a short walk around the harbour we came to the end where a hand built wall had been made in which people were sitting and admiring the sights, looking over it was a peaceful sight including a lighthouse and people racing up and down on the water. We enjoyed different food from the same food van parked up at the side of the harbour, it seemed to taste so much better by sitting on the ledge of the harbour wall with seagulls diving down closer and closer each time, eventually having had enough of the chips I threw them up into the air and watched the seagulls dive into catch them and with that the others in the group jumped out of the way so not to get hit. Within a couple of minutes a couple of sea lions had appeared to join in with grabbing the chips. This led to us further down the harbour to reach a nearby green where it was occupied with a park, this park was heaving with different ages ranging from young to adults. The park being located on the edge of the seafront was overrun with people playing football and just chilling out on the grass green situated on the outer side of the fencing. Which lead to the question, Does the location of a play space effect the value it has to the local community? This space was obviously located in a prime space and was being used by more tourists than locals, but is the fact all year round? Also as so many of the people were using both the park and the green, was there any point in having a fence splitting the two?

Waiting at the station to return back ready in time to meet Lily (our final person in the group) we took lots of time out to get each other some more and discuss what we did within the play sector. Each having a different role and each as important as the other, it was then that Lily phoned to say she had arrived (early) whoops! And not being able to make the trains we started to laugh again at the fact that within 5 people we had one brain if that, not being to meet Lily of the train we guided her to the B&B and met her shortly after. As we left with a full 6 people we decided on a local pub/ restaurant to gather our thoughts and give introductions to Lily.

Darkey Kellys in Dublin is named after an infamous lady who played in Copper Alley. As we walked in and found a table at Darkey Kellys we quickly noticed the variety in age that was welcomed into the pub with a few children included. Part of visiting Ireland this week clashed with the Euro 2012 which is a massive part of the Irish culture, with Ireland not expecting to get this far in the tournament the crowd stood almost symmetrically with each other and I almost felt the same, with the passion for football anyhow I was excited by this moment and was welcomed to stand by nearby people. Having sung the Irish anthem the punters cheered and some had tears showing themselves to be proud to be Irish. Before the game the band played as it had done before the game, the children that seemed to be the grandchildren of the banjo player in the band got closer and started to dance with closely watched over by their parents after a couple of minutes they would rush back to their table after getting shy with people watching on. It got to half time and we called it a night having got to know each other and played some playful games amongst the group and headed back to the B&B.

The first day of studying: (Monday)

Today was the day we met with our contact Debbie Clarke who had put together an agenda for the week of different play and cultural space we would be visiting in order to gain a better understanding of not only the play aspect of Ireland but to get to know some of the history behind it. We set of without both Lynne and Nick who had gone to collect the hire car, in search of the city hall thinking it was in one space we left plenty of space and soon realized it was in fact the post office Woops!  So we gathered directions and set off on a walk to the other side of town to meet with Debbie. Once there I recognised Debbie as someone I study with via distance learning at the University of Gloucestershire. During the meeting we heard lots about both Ireland’s history of playwork and how it’s in actual fact unheard of as was childcare until the year 2000, and Debbie’s history within Dublin and what her jobs have entailed.

One thing Debbie highlighted was that there is no such thing as playworkers in Ireland although having play centres they have staff working with roles such as early years workers, outreach workers, youth workers and street workers, some of these being the equivalent to playworkers and play rangers.

Debbie talked us through the visits she had arranged for the week, after a short time there were already a couple standing out to me relating to what I do in England within the play sector,

The horse fair which is held the 1st Sunday of each month offers young people the chance to buy horses for as little as 20 Euros and then with nowhere to keep them apart from gardens and estate fields they would do just this, this shocked me not quite being able to believe it I listened in some more and Debbie explained how the equestrian centre offered those young people the guidance on how to look after the horses which we would see later in the week when we visit the centre.

In England the children get a 6 week holiday out from school and college whereas in Ireland they get 8, which is astounding to me with children coming in the setting I work and beginning to tire after 5 weeks so imagine 8 weeks, Wow! During this time different play opportunities are facilitated including an Irish Playday held in July as well as the National Playday in August, the reasoning behind having one in July because schools break up early so children are around in July.

Back in time for the England game at 5:00pm so Nick and myself went across the road to O’Sheas restaurant to watch the game, at half time we were standing outside and got to observe a great bit of free play. A small group of boys stood on the island in the middle of the road holding what I can only explain as a Jelly string thing which they used to throw out and tried to stick to the cars as they drove past. What I was most amazed by was the adults who crossed the road next to them just carried on with their own day to day routine not saying a word to them, back in England some adults would take the time to lecture the children on whether or not they should be doing that, the boys who were already playing when we came outside and left shortly before we went in must have been standing and climbing on the island for a good 20 minutes. Was this normal for the children? Did they stand on this island often?

Charleslands Greystones Wicklow Leisure centre (pictured below):

The leisure centre was a playworkers dream play space with park, empty grass space, Skate Park and long windy paths for the younger children to practice their skating ready for when they are ten and can use the skate park.

The centre had its strengths and weaknesses, with no playwork but play. Having such a large open access space to the public belonging to the close community, the space run by workers who are have no playwork qualifications or yet understood playwork but still how they work is a natural way of doing playwork. With the skate park open to those over

10 years of age, the leisure centre staff gives free roaming of the park to the children only stepping in using different appropriate interventions when needed.

With the experience I’ve had in playwork I was surprised by how the staff reacted without any training, just natural instincts to support the children in their play.

Dominic told us that using the long windy path gave the children opportunity to learn how to fall before they move into the skate park therefore having the basic skills to use in the ‘risky’ play park.

The staff carried an influential attitude whilst working acknowledging that if the children get in when closed then there really is nothing they can do about it, and would they really want to do anything about it.

With graffiti sprayed over the skate park area Dominic and Sue explained that it shouldn’t be there but with a respect thing going down between young people and staff, and with different children giving individual permission to each other to tag the jumps.

Following this visit it had me wondering if playwork had to be recognised and do you need to be trained for it or are we naturally born playworkers,

This play space was summed up when on leaving looking up at the ceiling there was toilet roll stuck; now this roof was not your normal height so the children must have really thrown it with some force.

The 2nd day of studying:

We stopped off to get some lunch at the ‘best chip shop in Dublin’ (as recommended by Debbie) whilst there the owner told us there was a great little park down the road, we took the opportunity and as we reached it found the it was Cathedral Park. Soon after we arrived a flock of children appeared shortly followed by a couple of adults curious we watched as they all spread out over the space. Soon my curiosity got the better of me and I wandered over to speak to one of the ‘teachers’ to find out where they were from, it turned out they were from a school and expected it to take longer than it did so they had brought the children in to play whilst they waited for the ‘Viking bus’. The teachers did not seem to be concerned or nor should they be with the children running around jumping of the park equipment or splashing in the fountain. The children ran freely moving in and out of the different play frames.

On benches near to the group a mother sat with her two children who threw crumbs to the pigeons and the children would get up and chase them away which they repeatedly did until they left. I took the chance to wander over with some leftovers chips and sit next to the mother who looked and smiled. Yes my cue ‘what a great space you have here’ She looked and begun to chat, I took the time (after introducing who I was and what I was doing in Ireland) to ask about how often she uses the park and at what age she would let her children come without supervision. On finding out that she visited each day whether it rain or shine, and instead of giving an age she told me when her children are ready. When would they be ready? I thought to myself, or would this be when the parents were ready or felt they were.

The Ballymun Regeneration project: (Tuesday)

On route to Ballymun we got stuck at a set of traffic and all eyes were on a ‘lost’ dog that Lily had pointed out, Lily feeling sorry for the dog was gutted for it not having its owner. As we watched more carefully we watched the dog wait at a pedestrian crossing with nobody around wait for the beeping and then walk across the road and then run off up the road. This with some other dogs that we saw seemed to be more human than dog as they came out to play just like the children and then go in when called. How cool!

A team made up of 4 youth workers and 1 part time worker, supervised by a senior worker who work with volunteers and sessional workers to keep the different projects going. Based in a youth centre which offers lots of different activities including music lessons and gardening on their roof garden the workers look out for the youth aged between 7 and 21 years. As we got there we sat in on their start of day meeting which is used to reflect on any problems they have had the day or week before, today meeting was used to introduce each other and to discuss what we do and what we were looking to gain from visiting their session. Whilst with Frank, Mark and the other workers we got the chance to tour the building and look at their set up which was made up of many rooms including a dance room, computer room (where a boy sat at his computer, as we looked in at the amazing room we saw him turn the screen from the adult and scoop onto Facebook, how great!).

The spaces we were going to visit Debbie had herself been involved in the process of starting up.  We visited three different play spaces where the ‘Reco Rangers’ visited weekly and the first was just a short drive away from the centre. The first space was the most utilised space, a space that held a big park area with various different equipment and next door in which the rangers used was a green area, following arriving the rangers had got a game of rounder’s going instantly as I walked onto the patch of grass I was picked to join a team and although I was part of the team I didn’t get to touch the ball as I took place at the back of the field as did Nick I seemed quite excited about being invited; I wondered why I picked along with Nick, Had the children recognised my enthusiasm to play, as it came to time to swap I wandered off to have a closer look at the nearby park, feeling comfortable in this area I took photos and spoke with Debbie who gave lots of exciting information about how the plans came together with the children’s help.

The next play space just two minutes around the corner I found myself a little disappointed by the state the council had let the space get into, with the environment in a horse shoe shape with a broken tyre swing and basketball net. My opinions soon changed as the children and dogs appeared, also met by the street workers, the children who were given chances to learn controlled boxing, skipping and play active games like wolves and sheep. Wolves and sheep was a very competitive game where the children competed for themselves and siblings that seemed in close contact often, although we hadn’t been there before because we arrived with the Reco Rangers we were accepted as ok and one child left her younger sibling with Lynne I felt uneasy about being in this area not because of the children but because of the enclosed space and how there was only way out, having grown up in empty fields with lots of exits and also streets where your familiar with most neighbours this was very out of the ordinary for me. I was in a small world though watching the dogs weaving in and out of the children playing around them in the space; they would go towards the ball but stop before they touch the ball and then go back again, repeatedly doing this again and again. The dogs seemed to be treated as the children were, with them going in when they see their owner’s faces and then coming out for 10 minutes more play time before dinner.

The final play space we went to with the Reco Rangers (the people in yellow coats) was used by young people up to about 25 years of age, all the children living close by some stood observing others playing until later in the time when they decided to join in the game. As the Reco Rangers walk down the street from the second space the children walk down with them, coming out of their houses to play and although at the start there was no one around (which we did not see) it picked up very quickly within a few minutes I personally counted 50 young people within 10 minutes of us being there. With only a small grass area and a concrete walk away through the middle the children put jumpers down for goal posts, and quickly engaged in a game of football. Whilst the male workers played football, we took the time to observe and speak with the female staff about what happens when they usually turn up, they told us that quite often if a game isn’t started within the first 30 seconds then it can get quite heated with a few of the children where they are overwhelmed with the opportunity and interactions to play. Taking some of the skills that Frank and co used whilst doing ‘outreach’ I will most defiantly use once back working at the adventure playgrounds in the UK, offering different options when out as well as carrying leaflets to bring people to the playgrounds just by taking a football gives the children the opportunity to play even without coming to the space and remembering that play takes precedence over any adult agenda.

Little Acorns Centre: (Wednesday)

Little Acorns Centre opens daily all year round as a Nursery and Afterschool Club, on arrival we met up with Michele who managed the setting. Michele gave a tour of the space whilst also allowing us to explore ourselves.

Michele shared her experience and knowledge of childcare in Ireland with us, starting with a massive shock to my system which affected the rest of my week and gave me a new angle of looking at play spaces. Childcare only came into action in the year 2000 over in Ireland because of the constitution that enabled women not having to work outside their home, although before this there was child minders. In 2000 The Equal Opportunities Act came into place giving a need for childcare because of mums going into work just like dads. Also the opportunity of childcare gives children another year before they must be in full time education making in 6 years old, and even then most schools finish at 1:30pm giving the need for childcare even more.

Michele explained that training is not easily accessible and although they use in-house training regularly if the staff wanted to train at degree level they would need to travel out of the county or work via Distance-Learning. With this mind all of Michele staff is trained by Fetack (training body) at Level 5 or 6 and if they wanted to train higher they would use Hetack (training body) to do this. If they were taking on staff they would be looking for the experience and a competent person rather than qualifications.

During the discussion Michele was asked about playwork and her interpretation was of Playwork used as therapeutic play or the opportunity for children to be educated through play. Numbers for Michele were high partly because the setting offered the option to pick up from numerous schools around the area, but also because they had changed to becoming a Montessori Nursery which was wanted by the local people.

Outside there was 3 main areas where different ages were segregated apart and then after a small amount of time swapping areas, giving the children no option to mix unless watching through the fence. The boy pictured here told me he was keen on playing in the area with the big children but because he was in the top year of the Nursery he must stay in that area until later on in the session or when siblings arrive when he can go and play with them. Waiting patiently he watched on and waited, Whilst watching this young boy I did wonder maybe if I could leave the gate open and see what would happen or if the staff could see what was happening and change the ‘rules’ to suit the children, taking on board what they wanted.

In the first area of the tour outside we were shown a traveller style climbing horse and carriage (unfortunately the children must be 4 to use it! Due to health and safety standards), this was one of our first chances to get involved with the children after few minutes I was soon being chased by many children and using this I started telling stories about flying to the clouds on my magic horse, the children seemed mesmerized by my playful behaviour Were they used to this playful interaction? I say this; even with so much on offer for the early years children, an older child stood kicking a ball around for a few minutes the staff seemed to watch from nearby not knowing how to interact I was tempted as was another member of the group to go see if he wanted a game.

In a brief chat over tea and scones Michele told us about having tools in the cupboard for a year without being used because she was not sure how to use them with the younger children. I was surprised what about the older children could they not use them? This was soon brought up and Michele truthfully said she had not thought about it round that way. This gave the opportunity for discussion about tools, fire etc. being used.

At the start of the sessions children are encouraged to run 6 laps around their very own track, the equivalent to half a mile. Staff said this is because of recent statistics saying 25% of 3 year olds are obese.

We talk funny, nice accents one of the members of staff said to me as I stood chatting, the children would tell her that we were strange because we talk different.

With the afterschool club newly introduced to the centre and new to Ireland, it was evident that the staff were uneasy with what to play with when around the older children and not recognising the play cues. The children were cared for well but with more on offer it gave me side for argument to say training was needed in playwork and although eh skills were obviously there they just needed to recognise them skills and know how to put them into practice.

As I stood observing a small group bent down in a group on the grass, I saw they were amazingly picking the daisies to make daisy chains but it soon became apparent that they had no idea of making them, so I stepped in which being an outdoors person I enjoyed being able to pass on such a small skill to staff and children of how to make them. After attaching a couple of daisies I left the group to give them space to continue.

The nursery showed to be a child-led environment although with the segregation standing in the way of lots of exciting opportunities that I could see could happen especially with the older boys waiting to get in there and play a game of football with the even older boys.

Equestrian Centre: (Thursday)

The equestrian centre a place that offered children a space to respect horses and learn more about them, giving them the responsibility and opportunity to care for and in return ride the horses, the centre holds a waiting list for those in the community who show interest. The centre that started out taking in horses but quickly realised they had taken on too much, (where the children would bring their horse fair horses down) and stopped taking horses of local young people but today the centre is very beneficial to the community helping lots of young people with different skills.

Although not being the biggest fan of horses and really feeling quite tense in the building, I could see the benefits it was having to some of the children who lacked in confidence (but could this also be helped through play?)

More to come very soon…


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