The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Play And The Art of Playful Communication

Ash Perrin


The Flying Seagull Project



Dedicated to Sir Ken Robinson for his shining light of inspiration and willingness to challenge the norm.

Let's start from absolute Square 1.  What is play?

Play is the indigenous language of the child, and it is the simplest language there is. It demands total revelation, full throttle energy and absolute authenticity. Play requires that we don't hold back, we be present, and jump in with a big YES. Real play cannot have an agenda, a pressure towards specific output.  Play does not mean creatively managing a child’s time or delivering morals or educational messages disguised as a game. Play means opening your full heart, engaging absolute flexibility of mind, and letting go. If you are unable, or unwilling to look foolish, you cannot work with kids. Play only works if we lose all ego and give full heart. The most valuable thing you can ever offer a child is ‘you’, mistakes, doubts, and clumsiness included. By being your full self it enables them to do the same and to understand by your honesty that not one of us is perfect.

Play is something that begins the second we are born with the first breath drawn, or the first steps you took. You stood up, wobbled a bit, fell down, laughed a bit, and tried again. Playing with the various ways to rise and the multiple options for falling. It is all play

Play is not competitive. It's not about when, or to what level the result of the game delivers. It's about the quality and immersive depth of experience. It’s these 'in the moment' processes that allow the most powerful, confident and genuine expressions of self.

In play there’s no such thing as ‘good enough’. This doesn't mean there are no winners or losers, but that neither carries lesser or greater status. This impetus towards proper full hearted non-layered play placed immediately into a professional context, for children of all descriptions can radically impact those engaging with it.

I founded The Flying Seagull Project 13 years ago, an arts organisation sharing circus, play, music and dance with children in crisis all over the world. We have built circus tents in refugee camps all over Europe, opened a play centre in rural Romania, danced and performed magic into every school for disability in Ghana and much more. The reason I say this is not to boast (though we are proud), but to show that in spite of the assumed severity of a situation there is still the urgent need, and in fact enshrined right to give a child a chance to play. In some situations we have seen first-hand children who are completely shut down or uncontrollably violent, unable to interact with others yet transformed in hours by the shared experience of play. It is flippant to disregard these experiences as a mere distraction for children in childhood.  Play forms building blocks for life. With these blocks solid, a life can build to unfathomable heights, but without this strong base the opposite is true and long-lasting trauma and hardship can be the result. In the past decade and a half, we have worked with almost 200,000 children in 23 countries in situations that don’t bear thinking about. I can therefore say that real play and genuine playful interaction can literally make the difference between life and death.

We work with raw passion and storm strength energy and have for over a decade. Our energy never runs low, because in any sphere of life, if you are genuinely enthusiastic and passionate about your work you are not only better at it but can develop a limitless stamina. Maybe in some industries you can fake this, but not when working with, or creating materials for kids. They can smell a rat from 100 miles and though they are obliged to go along with it, the impact will be less significant. We must do better.

In this current world within the conceptual ‘new norm’, we are facing a huge challenge but also incredible opportunity to deeply examine and develop the art of playful communication. The past decade’s increasingly tidal movement towards screens and digital interaction has, in my opinion, brought us close to crisis. We have seen games and digital media take on an ever-expanding role within our children’s lives from ages ever younger. This as an additional resource to play may be a good thing, but the notion that it could be a replacement or alternative to real play is a potentially dangerous and damaging idea. It doesn’t have to be so, and I don’t believe we are over the precipice yet, but immediate and a bravely honest assessment and re-evaluation of these digital mediums and their intrusive capacity within our homes and schools are needed. This brings me back to the opportunity the ‘new norm’ represents. I for one will not accept that this ‘new norm’ means a fight-less acceptance of a communication limit, instead I will see it as a huge challenge to be faced and worked through. I deeply believe that play and playful communication is the key, and we have a chance now to use these resources to a fuller and more profound level at a time when they are urgently needed.


Why does this matter?

All of us begin as pure hearted children, thirsty for experience and excited by all the world’s bounty. Too often somewhere along the way we can lose our confidence, or our SPARK. For all of us working within childhood development it is our duty to recognise this and make the change to enshrine play into all our systems

The result will be a generation able to problem solve to a whole new level. A generation willing to break the mould and rebel against accepted norms, to playfully explore other options and innovate or create fresh new solutions. From the environmental need for industrial redesign and green/renewable integration to educational reform, population expansion related crisis, medical development, agriculture, politics, global economic stability...the sky is the limit.

A generation that dares to think 'outside of the box', and with the light touch of experimentation and acceptance of failure offers an extremely exciting future.

So, what am I suggesting we do? How does this apply to you?

When creating anything that is targeted at communicating with children, we must always remember that how life feels matters.  I'm lucky enough to be totally in love with my work and excited by every plan and project we make. If you're working with children in any capacity, you no doubt went into it with this same passion and joy. If you no longer feel that it is crucial you immediately seek out why and remedy it. In their early years, children absorb everything like hyper-sponge from outer space. Whether you are advising on a distant board somewhere on content for exercise books in schools, or on the front line of social care remember that you have the ability and arguably the responsibility to use the fire and pure energy of your heart to encourage and light the paths of others. You are the inspirers, the magic makers, the knowledge sharers and soul lifters.  Always remember that you can and must make a difference to every life you touch. Go forward and pour such passion into your work that the world is brighter for it.


Industry Policy Research

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)