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The Play Cycle 20 Years On

In 1998, Gordon Sturrock and Perry Else presented a paper at the IPA USA International Play Conference in Colorado. The paper was titled ‘The playground as therapeutic space: playwork as healing’, later referred to as ‘The Colorado Paper’ and introduced the Play Cycle to playwork practice. In the last twenty years, elements of the Play Cycle (such as ‘play cues’, ‘play return’, ‘play frame’ and ‘annihilation’) have entered into common use within the playwork sector, and appears in training and education, text books and underpins professional playwork practice. The aim of this research was to investigate understandings and applications of the Play Cycle and whether it has influenced playwork and childcare practice over the last 20 years.

This research was conducted by Dr Pete King from Swansea University and Dr Shelly Newstead. Read about the findings from the research in the journal articles below and the Routledge Advances in Playwork Research book,
The Play Cycle: Theory, Research and Application.

For more details about the study, please contact Pete at or 01792 602 314.

For more information about the original Play Cycle, read Therapeutic Reader One, which includes ‘The Colorado Paper’.

Journal Articles

If you are in the UK and do not have access to journals through an educational institution, try the Access to Research scheme available in public libraries.

King, P. & Newstead, S. (2019) Childcare Worker’s Understanding of the Play Cycle: can a focus on ‘process not product’ contribute to quality childcare experiences? Child Care in Practice

King, P. & Newstead, S. (2020) Re-defining the Play Cycle: An empirical study of playworkers’ understanding of playwork theory. Journal of Early Childhood Research 18, 99-111.

King, P. & Newstead, S. (2019) Understanding the adult role in the Play Cycle – an empirical study. Child Care in Practice

​King, P. & Newstead, S. (2020) Demographic data and barriers to professionalisation in playwork Journal of Vocational Education & Training