An Essential Guide to Reflective Playwork Practice

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Becoming a playworker can be a rewarding experience that helps you to enhance the lives of the little ones in your care.

Playwork is a way of giving children the freedom to choose the activities they participate in and facilitating this to give them the greatest chance of development in a secure environment.

Reflecting on your practice can be beneficial for your career, and the wellbeing of the children you look after.

Any childcare practitioner has a difficult task on their hands at the moment as children’s confidence has decreased due to the COVID lockdown. For instance, a recent Ofsted report found that children who had limited access to outdoor space in the lockdown were hesitant to jump off play equipment.

Taking the time to process these barriers, and the impact they can have on children is key.

What is the playwork approach?

Playwork allows a child to lead their play, rather than being told what to do. It gives the child an opportunity to explore and try new things in a safe environment.

As a playworker, you’ll be enabling the children to do this, rather than playing with them directly. Instead, a playworker’s role is to decide whether or not they need to intervene if play is considered too risky.

If you work with children, you can use playwork to allow children to find creative and imaginative ways of playing together or independently.

What are the playwork principles?

There are eight playwork principles, outlined by Play Wales, which provide a framework for childcare professionals.

They are:

  1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and wellbeing of individuals and communities.
  2. Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
  3. The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.
  4. For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult-led agendas.
  5. The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.
  6. The playworker’s response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up-to-date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.
  7. Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people’s play on the playworker.
  8. Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker interventions must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well-being of children.

What is reflective practice?

Reflective playwork practice recognises that taking a step back to contemplate how an event has unfolded can help you to improve your skills, and identify areas to focus on.

This method of critical thinking can help your continuing professional development and build a greater understanding of a child’s needs.

For instance, if you notice a child is hesitant to engage, and you try to encourage them to play with their classmates, you could reflect on how this situation unfolded later. You could note down the situation, your actions, and the outcome, before challenging yourself to analyse what could have happened instead, and what you’d change in the future.

Reflective playwork models to use

There are a few different models you can use to help in your reflective playwork practice, which encourages you to see things from a child’s perspective and enhance play for those in your care.

Remember that theoretical and practical application is key to keeping up a reflective playwork practice. If you don’t put what you’ve learned into action, you’re not getting as much out of the exercise as you could.


The SLLRRRP model is one that Play Wales recommends to help you determine whether or not to intervene while a child is playing. This is a reflective practice completed in the moment, rather than after the event.

You’ll use the acronym to follow these steps:

S – Stop. Don’t jump in right away but pause for a moment first
L – Look. Look around you to understand the situation more clearly
L – Listen. Can you hear anything that might cause you to intervene right now?
R – Reflect. This is the moment where you should reflect on what would happen if you intervened and what would happen if you didn’t. Weigh up the best course of action in your mind
R – React. React in the way you’ve deemed most appropriate, which may also include not intervening at all
R – Reflect. Take a moment to reflect again on the consequences of your reaction. Has the situation improved? P – Practice. Regular reflection helps your practice to make continuous improvements.


While you’re in the reflection stage of the SLLRRRP model, it might be helpful to use IMEE to work out whether intervention would be for the best or not.

I – Intuition. Use your intuition about best practice and how you think you should approach this situation
M – Memory. Use memories of your own childhood to help you see things from a child’s perspective
E – Experience. Think back on your own experience of good play environments, and examples of interventions you may have seen from your colleagues
E – Evidence. Recall the playwork values and training materials you’ve studied that you can apply to your everyday practice

Double loop learning

As opposed to single-loop learning where you take learnings away from a single experience, double-loop learning allows you to dig deeper into what may be causing a particular situation to happen.

Playwork practitioners should practice double loop learning rather than single loop learning to encourage their educational progress and support and enhance play.

Look for reflection opportunities while you’re working, and at the end of the day too.

Playwork qualifications with TSW

If you’d like to learn more about playwork, and playwork theory, our qualification programmes can help you progress in your career.

Find out more by visiting our childcare apprenticeships page.

Picture of Richard Hywood
Richard Hywood
Richard is TSW Training Apprenticeships’ Employer and Community Engagement Manager. His articles will help your business prepare for and manage apprentices.
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