Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Children, Adults and Playfighting

“We want to do it exactly the same again but without the talking.” Verbal feedback from Lexis, Play Fight Club Attendee

Laura Eldret's first explorations into children’s play fighting were part of the Play Local programme at the South London Gallery. She began by helping shape a series of workshops on Sundays during January and February 2013 with sessions that soon became known locally amongst children as ‘Play Fight Club’. These initial workshops, which took place inside the Tenants and Residence Association Hall on Wyndham and Comber Estate in Camberwell, explicitly allowed children to play fight within zones of varying intensity and with pillows and crash mats providing cues for a significant range of physical exertion.


Some adults acknowledge a role for play fighting as a natural part of children’s lives while others do not. Many often turn a blind eye in order to allow space for it. At times a pragmatic neglect is required so that children can take risks and flirt with conflict in the absence of the expectations of adult supervision. As stated in the risk assessment for the original workshops, play fighting is probably physically safer than most competitive sport. The likelihood that play fighting will cause serious injury is minimal while the health benefits are considerable.
Over the last decade there has been a sharp decline in the time children can play unsupervised. This has been the consequence of changing lifestyles and an increased desire within the adult population to engage with and provide for the lives of children. There is an accepted perception that children’s unsupervised time must be controlled and minimised.


Now that formal childcare arrangements and professionalised agencies have replaced looser structures involving families and communities, the trusting practice of keeping an eye out and expecting children to come home when it gets dark, is largely a thing of the past. Every aspect of children’s lives is not only subject to the supervision of adults but also to the values that go with it.


The actions of children become inevitably politicised with even the advocacy for how children are allowed to play, revealing much about the values and biases of its proponents. Attitudes to play fighting like other aspects to the notion of childhood are a battleground of adult ideas of childhood and what it should contain.


It seems likely that, for the foreseeable future, the majority of children of any age in Britain will only be able engage in types of play that are sanctioned by adults. Where is the space for boisterous play that is loud, incorporates violent mannerisms and physical actions that hold the potential to cause harm if mis-directed or the obligation to pull the punch is forgotten? For a short time, Eldret’s Rough Play provided space to consider the importance of play fighting and visitors were invited to explore the situation under the supervision of invigilators and playworkers from the South London Gallery.


 Text by Jack James, Children & Families' Project Assistant
Photos by Zoe Tynan-Campbell, Freelance Artist

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