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BLOG! Reflections on: The International Play Association World Congress 2011: Cardiff
July 4th 2011 | 28 comment(s)

So, Day one of the 2011 International Play Association World Congress in Cardiff (Wales) and following fast on its heals ... the first reflections column of the day!

A very good start to the day. Four-hundred and odd-people from fifty-odd countries heard opening speeches from a number of people including the First Minister for Wales followed by a presentation by a group of children (so often tokenistic and patronising) but this one certainly was not – it was humorous and they took control of the adults in the room very firmly!

The first keynote speaker of the day was Keith Towler (Children’s Commissioner for Wales). He stated his role as being, “to speak up for children” and said that by the end of his seven year appointment he “... wants’ to be able to report that children are happy.” And I see nothing wrong in that.

Recognising the difficulties in this he touched on the perceived anti-social nature of some children’s play and the risky behaviours they sometimes engage in saying, “Children will break windows, climb trees and fall out,” but despite that they are still ‘the future’. I see nothing wrong with that, either.

He also touched on the difficulties being faced by individual settings and the play sector as a whole in the current financial situation with unprecedented cuts in funding fast becoming the norm. He made a direct challenge to central and local government saying that he was watching this closely and that if government failed to live up to their commitment to children through funding and investment he would tell them very firmly, “How could you do this to children, have you any idea of the effect of what you are doing?”

Our second keynote speaker was the eminent ecologist and zoologist Marc Bekoff, Prof. Emeritus at the University of Colorado. His presentation was titled, ‘Fair play, wild justice and moral intelligence in animals: what can we learn from animals?’ The answer it seems, is quite a lot.

Starting his presentation with references to Tinbergen (a hero of playwork) he went on to describe the idea behind Evolutionary Continuity as being, basically, "if we [humans] have it, they [animals] have it". This applies to all sorts of physiological factors and behaviours, including morals (“if we have them, they have them”). He noted that although animals can be ‘bad’, observational evidence suggests that for the vast majority of time they are mostly positive and cooperative towards each other.

He also included ‘as training for the unexpected’ in the list of ‘why’ animals play, making a neat parallel with human play. Equally, his observation that when animals stop playing it is because there is something wrong rang true for human play as well (yet another example of Evolutionary Continuity).

Finally, exposing himself as a (self-confessed) ‘old hippy’ rang true at one point when he expressed disappointment that he was going to miss the evenings planned entertainment, saying “I guess you’re going to do awesome!”

The first of the two panels/symposiums I am to chair also went well. Papers in on the theme of Play in the Past were delivered by Julia Bishop, Mike Barclay, Fraser Brown and myself ... but more of that later bucause their are preparations to be made for tonight's Twmpath (a communal dance with a band and a roast hog)! Part 2 later ....


Marc Armitage

4th July 2011

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Marc Armitage



Marc is an independent consultant, researcher and writer in playworking and the wider social world of children and young people.

He is a regular speaker at conferences and seminars around the European Union and beyond engaging with practitioners, educators and policy makers.


This website is a collection of writings and news, published pieces, conference papers, discussions, thoughts, ideas, Blog pieces .. and general ramblings.

Not all of it is totally 100% serious ... what would the point be in a playworker who doesn't play a little, hmmm?


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