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Play is a serious business, especially for families with young children. I'm conscious that it is half term soon. In celebration of this my blog looks at some of the safe and transgressive forms of play that Soft Play can encourage, and lists Bristol based arts events that can counteract them.

The Wikipedia entry on the 'activity of play' introduces a range of different definitions and forms of play, alongside a range of references to research about the value of play. Play is often associated with entertainment and wasting time. We talk about 'playtime' and use the phrase 'Stop playing around'. Some play is socially acceptable whilst other forms of play aren't. We praise children for 'playing so nicely together' and admonish them when they don't. When something is simple or too easy we refer to it as child's play.

I am concerned that young children's play is becoming too risk averse. For example at Soft Play, every potential hazard is padded out and covered in a layer of PVC, that can be easily wiped clean and disinfected. The 'play' usually takes place in windowless industrial units and the space is set up so children can play safely whilst accompanying adults have a Barista style cappuccino in a comfortable seating area. No one can get dangerously lost in these gated communities. There are always children who ignore the safety notices and climb the wrong way up the slide; at times their parents, who are desperately trying to work on their laptops in the cafe area, don't see the gang warfare their children are engaged in, as the venue's fixtures are fittings are hurled at newly acquired enemies. Rain can not affect play. In popular venues, play is rationed according to colour wrist bans. When your time is up - you leave. Playtime ends.

There is definitely a time and a place for Soft Play. I will take my children there again; however I usually leave feeling unfulfilled. Soft Play doesn't stimulate me. It serves a purpose but lacks soul. It segregates my children and me, into separate areas and roles. However I want play to be meaningful to both me and my children. I crave spaces where we can experiment with play and break the rules in creative and unimaginable ways. Going up the slide the wrong way in Soft Play simply isn't enough anymore. There is a whole world out there to undermine, intervene in and turn upside down.

This half term there are arts events in Bristol, where families can push the boundaries of play and the dynamics between adults and children.

Playing Up has been programmed is part of Inbetween Time, Bristol's international Live Art Festival and is free. On Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th of February adults and children are invited to Arnolfini to participate in a project conceived by artist Sybille Peters. Writer *Mary Paterson wrote a text about Playing Up, when it was launched at Tate Modern in 2016. She describes the work as consisting of '....a box set of 37 cards, each describing a different work of Live Art alongside an instruction to interpret some of its ideas'. The cards are organised into six different categories that challenge children and adults work together to; explore, experiment, travel, reclaim, dwell, tell stories, become other things, take risks, protest and blur boundaries.

Sian Norris is Spike Island's

writer-in-residence. This Saturday, Spike Island is hosting Sian's Creative Writing Workshop, Children’s Storytelling Spiderweb for under 16's; ' can tell your story and see it come to life as it is attached to the ever growing web of tales. We provide pens, card and spiderweb. All you need to bring is your imagination'.

​Inbetween Time is also programming this workshop by Lone Twin, for children 6 - 10 years on the 11th and 12th February; they describe the project as

' a groundbreaking

real-world adventure for children. Adults gawp, some run away - if you come face to face with Beastie what will you do?'. Please see IBT website for charges.

*Mary Paterson is currently writer-in-residence at Spike Island and Arnolfini, as part of the Art Writers Group programme.

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