Today was my first session with the Play-Rangers from Bath Area Play Project, it was on and off rain all day so we didnt expect alot of kids to turn up. My first thought when we arrived to the park was how big the space was, it was a gigantic field next to the River Avon. It had a wooden structure with netting at the back nearer the river and a expensive-looking swing next to some rocks a few metres away. These rocks were in a curve formation which was perfect for sitting in the middle of to do any cooking. We unloaded after climbing a huge gate because our key wouldn’t work, and put up our ‘Come and Play’ flag. This flag is huge with bright colours so children can see it from their houses in the surrounding area. The play-ranging sessions are open-access so kids will come and go as and when they like which is great for us because the job is so unpredictable, anything could happen! In the distance I could see two excitable small people and an adult. My colleague knew who they were, and said that their dad likes to stay for the session. This is an option most parents would struggle with, leaving their children out in the elements with strangers that decide to play near a river. These factors can be daunting for any parent, which we have to respect because at the end of the day these little people are their off-spring and they are in most cases, everything to them. So adults will stay and join in with the play. The dad seemed nice and the kids were instantly welcoming to me as a new face. I introduced myself, ‘Nice to meet you, i’m Lily. Is it ok if i play with you guys today?’ The little girl with big eyes and pink tails, squeaked ‘Yeah! OK!’

They ran straight to the swing that i’ve been told, cost 13,000 grand. What. The. Hell.

I couldnt believe it, when i was told, i replied with ‘a child could get just much fun out of a baking tin’. I dont really feel comfortable with that amount of money being spent on one item of play equipment. But anyway, whatever it costs, the children ran straight to it and tried to clamber on. Their dad instantly snapped ‘No! You cant get on it, its soaking wet!’ This was obviously going to provoke a instant plead of cries. ‘Ohhh, but whyyyy?? ‘Its OK ‘cos il scrape it off, look!’ The children made many attempts to clear the water in the black bowl-shaped swing. It was one of these ones that had enough room for lots of bottoms to sit, and with a rope either side. There was a hole in the middle to drain away water but there was a film of water droplets left behind. The dad insisted that it was not time to go on the swing, ‘You did not come to this to go on the swing! Now leave the swing alone before i get angry.’ Mm, well dude I think you already did get angry…this abruptness and control from some parents does, like many of us in the field can empathise with, gets right up my nose. I mentioned it very quietly to my fellow playranger and he just muttered in agreement but reminded me that we are only here to facilitate play, so i suppose not to judge whats going on outside of that. But i cant help myself, this is exactly what gets me fighting about play and that moment in time, i could think of a several things to say to that man.

1) They’re playing. Thats ok. 2) They’re not being naughty, so no need for that tone. 3) They didnt come for a specific ‘activity’ they’re simply just going to come along, play, go home. 4) The mood of the children instantly changed, the smiles they arrived with turned into crying, pleading and asking nicely, isnt this meant to be a chance for them to forget all the rubbish stuff from their school day?

I thought i’d walk away at this point because it was winding me up, i helped the other guy for a bit then looked around and the dad had turned the swing UPSIDE DOWN. ARGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

I kept my cool as usual and walked over. The kids were still asking nicely whilst the dad looked over what he had done. The kids decided on a new, cool game would be to get UNDER the swing and use it as a shelter from the rain. I loved this and laughed, ‘Wow guys thats a good idea’, ignoring the dad’s sulk, I went underneath and pointed ‘Look theres a hole in the middle for the water to get through.’

‘Ooh yeah! Daddy can you lift me onto the swing to look down at my sister?’

The dad lifted him onto it and the boy and girl were screeching in delight. I thought i’d chat to the dad because I was sensing he felt tense. The other guys were setting up a strap between the trees for the kids to hang on or walk along. When the dad wandered off to help, I got to speak to the pair by themselves. By this point the swing had been turned the right way up because it had been dryed with the girl’s coat (which she got told off about). They asked me to push them on it so they climbed on and I said ‘Hold on!’

The little girl, who was wearing wellies covered in mud, had noticed the mud she’d smeared all over the black rubber. Smiling, she shouted ‘Look what I have done! I have got mud everywhere!’

‘Oh yeah you have, you are a mucky pup!’

‘No you are a mucky pup!’ She snapped back.

I grinned, ‘You mucky pup! You pup! Pup! Pup! Pup!’

Her brother joined forces with his older sister, ‘You’re a dog-head!!’

‘A dog-head? What does that look like? A person with a head as a dog?’ I pulled my hood down and smiled at the faces beaming down at me.

‘Get that rain out of your head!’ the boy shouted.

‘You mean my hair is wet? Yeah it absolutely poured it down when we got here’. They got bored of the conversation and jumped off, seeing what the others were up to.

After much experimentation with the trees and ropes, the kids were getting itchy feet because it was too high for them to get up by themselves so it was of no use to them. I had the idea of getting some rope, looping it over the sloping strap and knotting it so the children could sit in the loop and hold on. the zip-wire idea went down beautifully. The kids were allowed four goes each time and had to take turns. I’d pull them along it as fast as i could and they’d come to a stop before hitting the other tree. They made up some games within the game, whilst on this ‘zip-rope’, like trying to kick the playworker in the bum at the end, kicking eachother at the end, kick the tree, the rock, and then their bums started to get sore.

After some go-karting, we made smoothies and got to have a little chat. The dad sat near by but didnt get involved, the kids got stuck in cutting up fruit and mashing it all up with a potato masher. The dad didnt want any because he didnt like drinks with lumps, so the little boy refused too. If only i could record the exchanges that we had in the space of 15 minutes, so magical. Heres just one – ‘Strawberries aren’t berries, so birds won’t like them if we throw them on the grass – Yeah they are berries because they have the word ‘berry’ in the word ‘strawberry’? – Yeah I know that but that doesnt mean they have to be berries! – OK whatever you say… [chuckle].

Despite an awkward start, the session was successful. What i mean by ‘successful’ I suppose i mean the children went home happy, tired out and bellies full of nutritious smoothie. We as staff were happy with what we did and how we supported the play. I felt I had to put my frustration aside because I remembered that we’re all only human, I shout at things when i’m in a bad mood. Its the cat’s fault, its the driver in front of me’s fault. He seemed like he loved them kids with all his heart and they sure loved him back, so that can’t be a bad father at all.