I am blog idea ‘rich’, yet time ‘poor’!  It’s fair to say this blog is a bit of a cheat…I have not actually written it myself!

We aim to keep our blog interesting and relevant. Clair Faulkner, our Operations Manager has written this informative blog about The Play Cycle and how it can be used to enhance children’s play.

So, who did write the blog?

Let’s start with a little bit about Clair.  Clair joined us just over 10 years ago.  In that time she has done just about every role in the company.  She has worked directly with children, she has managed clubs, and managed the people that manage the clubs.  She has done our Administration and so much more!  And at the same time she has found the time to undertake her Level 5 qualification in Playwork and become an NVQ Assessor.  Which makes Clair the perfect person to deliver our in-house play training.  It has been quite a journey for Clair, and one that means that she know A LOT about play.  It is with pleasure that I hand over the rest of this blog to Clair.

I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about the Play Cycle and are able to pick up some tips to help you extend your child’s play.

Happy reading!


What is the Play Cycle?

The theory of Psycholudics (the study of the mind and psyche at play), or to give it a name that we can all pronounce, The Play Cycle.  The Play Cycle is a theory which has just celebrated its 20th birthday.  What better time to have a look at what it is and how it can be used outside the Playwork world.

The Play Cycle breaks the simple, act of playing down into different stages.  By knowing and recognising these stages, adults can support and enhance the play experience and aid learning and development. What are the different stages I hear you shout, well let’s start at the beginning as it is always the best place to start!

The Play Drive

Children are driven to play, it is innate and a biological, psychological & social necessity.  They do not need to be told to play, they just do it.   The Play Drive is seeking to play with the world around the child and those things and people in it.  This play is freely chosen personally directed and intrinsically motivated.

The Play Cue

This is a sign or invitation from the child that they want you to join in.  This can be as obvious as a ball thrown to you to catch, or as subtle as a smile or other body language.  Children are the experts in their own play, and it can be unhelpful (or even rude) for adults to join in uninvited.  If children other children, or an adult, to play with them, they will let them know.

The Play Return

A play return is the response the child experiences as a result of the play cue.  If the child gets the return they want or expected  they extend the experience by giving another cue – throwing the ball back.  If they do not get a play return, they may give another play cue, or stop playing altogether.

The Play Flow

This is the really fun bit.  The child becomes totally engrossed and ‘lost’ in their play.  And as a adult, you will as well if you are lucky!  Being in the moment is vital here and nothing else matters apart from the content of the game, role play or whatever it is the child is engaged in playing.

The Play Frame

The play frame is a concept that can be described as the boundary that keeps the play intact.  This can be a physical boundary such as a football pitch, but often it is a non-material boundary such as the rules of the game.  The playing child will change the Play Frame by including others or adapting the game in some way, but keeps the Play Flow going.  (Still with me? Great nearly there)

Play Annihilation

The final stage of the play cycle is, play annihilation.  This is simply described as when the Play Flow stops.  This can be a natural end to a game, or the destruction of a model they have made.  Annihilation will happen when the child has got what they were looking for from the play experience.  It is about the child making their own choice to bring the play to a natural end.

Is the Play Cycle Always a Full Cycle?

It can be a cycle, however it may not!  If a play cue is not returned, then the cycle cannot start.  Likewise even if the children are in the play cycle they will probably be giving more play cues throughout that particular cycle. These play cues may, or may not be returned.  They also may or may not annihilate the cycle they are in, resulting in the children starting a new one.

But…It is a cycle in the respect that children always play and once one play cycle has finished another will start by the children giving more play cues and around and around it goes.  Stages can be skipped, or not reached is probably a better way of putting it, for example  Annihilation can happen at any time and stop the cycle.

A Whistle Stop Tour

That was a whistle stop tour of the Play Cycle! The main message is to let children play in their own way, for their own reasons and only join in when you are invited.  It is very easy as an adult to try to lead the game and take it in a different direction.  The tip to remember:  If you are lucky enough to be invited to join in the play, make sure the child leads the game and where the play is going.


About Class Of Their Own

Class Of Their Own run After School and Holiday Clubs throughout Brighton and Hove. Find out more at www.classoftheirown.com 

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