Marc Armitage

Marc Armitage

Marc Armitage is a playwork consultant, trainer, researcher, lecturer, and author. He believes that play is “what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests in their own way and for their own reasons” and that playwork is “not 'adult-led' or 'child-led', but 'play-led'.”1

While attending the Wilberforce school in Hull, East Yorkshire, England in the early 1970s, Marc played in the temporary adventure playground next to his school where he could “hammer, saw, build, dig holes, light fires, and cook.”2 A decade later he began his career as a playworker by working for Hull Community Playschemes Association (HCPA), the same organization that ran his childhood play space.

As a part of a team of three, Marc worked with HCPA assisting local community organizations to set up year round neighborhood play projects and school holiday playschemes. They also trained and supported volunteers and management committees until they could manage the play centers independently. These play centers were “open access” play spaces that followed the play concept of “three-free's” - free to enter, free to choose what to do, and free to leave.3

Marc broadened his playwork experience during the 1980s by working as an adventure playground worker at his childhood playground, as a playbus worker on the double-decker Humberbus, and by managing a drop-in creche and playgroup. His experience led to becoming the Training Officer for HCPA and then a Play Development Officer in the local government.

By 1989 Marc was working as a free-lance New Games/co-operative games player using the name “Playpeople, taking play seriously.”4 With the motto of “taking play seriously,” he conducted New Games sessions at schools, play settings, pubs, clubs, gatherings and conferences, festivals, and training events. Bicycling between sessions with a parachute, duck-caller, and “bag of tricks,” he brought the experience of play to the people, believing that “to truly get playwork you need to see it in action.”5 One of his popular offerings was the “Invent-a-Game” workshop where participants learned of game playing philosophies and together created a brand new cooperative game.

By the 1990s Marc was serving as the Secretary and then the Vice-Chair of HCPA. He has been the Chair of Humberside Playing Fields Association as well as of the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Play Association6 and has also served on the Hull Play Council and the National Voluntary Council for Children's Play, which was later known as the Children's Play Council and is now known as Play England.

The twenty-first century began with a shift in focus from conducting New Games sessions to empowering Playworkers and teachers through pre-summer training sessions in East, North, and West Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, UK. Playpeople also added accredited training programmes: “Stepping Stones to Good Playwork Practice” which involved 20, 30, or 60 hour courses and a 4 day “Training the Trainers” course. These courses emphasized observing the natural play behaviors of children when left to their own discretion and encouraged adults to apply this knowledge to their working practice.7

An example of his training philosophy is when Marc, as a playworker, spent time on a school playground during their lunch play times. Marc and his fellow HCPA playworkers were there to ease any hesitant children into attending the holiday playschemes. They surprisingly found that the teachers perceived a problem with the children's play abilities, feeling that they no longer knew how to play and needed to be taught – a problem Marc and his co workers did not see. This discrepancy in perception led Marc to begin researching available studies. Finding a lack of relevant studies on this subject led Marc to eventually conduct his own research into playground structures and playing.

Marc approached his research from the child's point of view, seeking to understand their approach to play and their play needs. He agreed with Robin Moore who said “we have no business making policy and spending money on facilities for children until we have an understanding about what parts of the environment children actually use, and why.”8 Marc came to believe that the “problem” with school play was largely due to the playground's physical design and the availability of playable materials.

In 1996 the Sproatley Endowed Primary School in East Yorkshire allowed Marc to experiment with playground designs which included extensive observations to see what effect the changes had on children's playing. Through this process he developed a model school play development process that has been used in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Scandinavian countries to develop their school playtimes.

Marc presented the paper “The ins and outs of school playground play: children's use of 'play places'” at the 1998 The State of Play: Perspectives on Children's Oral Culture Conference held at the University of Sheffield. Later, in 2001, this paper was included in Play Today in the Primary School Playground edited by Julia C. Bishop and Mavis Curtis, the hosts of the conference.

In the conference and ensuing book, Marc noted one of the playground design “problems” to be the large open square or rectangle play expanses located far from the school building. This adult solution to school play was “devoid of access to nooks and crannies or other three-dimensional features that might serve as defining boundaries, (making) it difficult for children to define their own places and gain distance between different forms of play” which led to conflict on the playground.9 He concluded with the belief that the adult role in children's play spaces is to provide an environment that allows that “children actually play as opposed to (how) they should or could play, or even (how) we think they play.”10 Marc has written more than thirty peer-reviewed academic papers, numerous magazine articles, and has been published in book form a dozen times in both English and Swedish.

Marc has continued to research, write, and conduct seminars on playwork, including the links between playing and learning, the use of “loose parts” in play, and the historical perspective of the playwork movement. As a consultant he also conducts independent evaluations of playspace, school playgrounds, play services, and projects. Marc has written the Play Policies and Strategies for more than twenty cities and local councils in the UK and Ireland and was a co-author of “Getting Serious about Play,” the National Review of play carried out for the UK government in 2004.11

  • 1. Armitage, Marc. “Marc Armitage: a Longer Profile.” Marc Armitage. < > 19 Nov. 2012.
  • 2. Op.cit., Armitage.
  • 3. Op.cit., Armitage.
  • 4. Bishop, Julia C. and Mavis Curtis, ed. Play Today in the Primary School Playground. Buckingham, England and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Open University Press, 2001. p. vii.
  • 5. Op.cit., Armitage.
  • 6. “The People.” No Ball Games. < > 19 Nov. 2012.
  • 7. Op.cit., Armitage.
  • 8. Moore, R.C. Childhood's Domain: Play and Place in Child Development. London: Croom Helm, 1986. p. xvi.
  • 9. Op.cit., Bishop and Curtis. p. 55.
  • 10. Op.cit., Bishop and Curtis. p. 56.
  • 11. Armitage, Marc. Personal correspondence to Playground Professionals. 12 Dec. 2012.