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Top Five Qualities Needed to Become a Playworker


Play is widely recognised as fundamental to children’s development, as it contributes to their cognitive, social, physical and emotional well-being (Ginsburg, K. R. 2007), learning, and quality of life. Playwork supports these benefits as it involves working with children in environments where they decide, control and adapt what, where and how they play, rather than being directed or led by adults.

Playworkers, sometimes known as play assistants, play carers or play rangers, are responsible for children’s safety, security and health during playwork. They play a pivotal role in creating, nurturing and stimulating play opportunities and environments in various settings, such as breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and holiday clubs.

The impact and influence of playworkers on children cannot be understated and can be positive or negative depending on the individual in the role. Playworkers must possess or cultivate the necessary qualities to positively impact children during playwork and benefit their learning and development.

In this blog post, you will look at the essential qualities playworkers need to thrive and excel in this dynamic profession.

What is a Playworker?

1. Passion for Play and Child Development

An essential quality that anyone involved in playwork, or those looking at entering this field, must have is a genuine passion for children’s development and play. They must also believe in children’s rights to play, which are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (PlayEngland).

Passion means endless and total devotion to children and their development, open to learning new ways and being with children, and advocating on their behalf the best outcomes for children and their world (Clark, B. 2012). If an individual is enthusiastic and excited about playwork, it is a career that motivates and inspires them and aligns with their personal values, then it is definitely one that is worth pursuing.

Not everyone is suited to work with children, as it can be challenging. It requires someone who loves communicating and playing with children, including when there are behavioural challenges and conflicts. It is a job with a lot of responsibility but incredibly rewarding.

To be an effective playworker, individuals should understand the importance of play in children’s development and appreciate that play is at the core of playwork. They should also recognise that access to various play opportunities and environments can enhance children’s capacity for positive development. The Playwork Principles are a good starting point in understanding what is unique about playwork and what playworkers do.

For those considering the role but have no experience being around children, it may be helpful to find a voluntary role to see if working with children is something they want to pursue. Undertaking relevant qualifications can also increase their chances of success and demonstrate a passion and willingness to learn.

Top Five Qualities Needed to Become a Playworker

2. Patience and Adaptability


Good playworkers will have patience in abundance, but what is patience? It is “the ability to wait, or to continue doing something despite difficulties, or to suffer without complaining or becoming annoyed” (Cambridge Dictionary). Children can certainly test people’s patience, as they can:

  • Take longer to do things or lose interest quickly.
  • Ignore boundaries.
  • Tell lies.
  • Want constant attention.
  • Easily get injured and sick.
  • Be difficult and act up.
  • Have meltdowns and tantrums.
  • Be abusive to adults, especially as they get older.
  • Be in conflict with other children.
  • Throw and break things.
  • Make a lot of noise and cause significant disruption.
  • Find it difficult to grasp things, which may require alternative ways to explain and repetition.

Children look up to adults to know how to behave. If a playworker starts to get impatient or irritated/angry at every little thing, it can result in children mimicking this behaviour as they learn through imitating adults around them. It may also have negative impacts and be damaging to children’s development.

Having patience and being calm with children can often be tricky. However, it is an essential quality a playworker must have, along with knowing how to deal with challenging behaviour. Playwork environments are usually hectic, and things can and often go wrong. Having patience can make it easier to remain calm in stressful situations.


Another quality that is vital for playworkers is adaptability, which means:

  • Having the ability to adjust to new or changing situations and environments.
  • Taking different actions at short notice.
  • Being flexible and responding quickly to change.
  • Committing to making ongoing improvements.
  • Keeping calm when facing difficulties.

It is also about putting children’s play needs at the centre of playwork and setting aside adult agendas. According to Professor Fraser Brown:

“The role of the playworker is to create flexible environments which are substantially adaptable or controllable by the children …”

Play is different for everyone, and all children have diverse needs, abilities and interests, i.e.:

  • The activities and environments that may suit one child may not interest another.
  • A child may be interested in a particular activity one moment and want to move on to something else the next.
  • Some children may have specific barriers, e.g. special educational needs and disabilities and English as a second language, that playworkers must consider for play to be inclusive.

Playworkers may need to adapt play opportunities and environments to accommodate diverse needs, abilities and interests and ensure all children can play freely, safely and in the way they choose.

Things do not always go according to plan, e.g. unexpected events or emergencies that affect playwork activities or spaces. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about many challenges. However, after the lockdowns, playwork as a profession demonstrated its adaptable and flexible nature for children to access the provision (King, P. 2022).

Being able to be flexible and adapt is essential in playwork.

Top Five Qualities Needed to Become a Playworker

3. Empathy and Active Listening


When a person has empathy, they can:

  • Emotionally understand and share the feelings, thoughts and experiences of others.
  • See things from other people’s perspectives and put aside judgements.
  • Imagine themselves in someone else’s position.
  • Listening to others with compassion and communicating understanding.

They also tend to have characteristics such as:

  • Emotional intelligence.
  • Self-awareness.
  • Curiosity.
  • Open-mindedness.
  • Compassion.
  • Sensitivity.
  • Strong intuition.
  • Good communication and active listening skills.
  • Able to read people well.

Empathy is a key trait that playworkers must have to succeed in the role for the following reasons:

  • It helps them communicate and connect with children more easily if they acknowledge and value their feelings.
  • It enables them to establish relationships and develop trust with children if they listen compassionately.
  • It helps children feel safe, listened to, understood and supported when confiding their worries or concerns.
  • It helps children stay motivated if they feel understood and supported.
  • It can encourage and reassure children who are unsure or nervous and boost their confidence.
  • It teaches children how to be empathetic if adults have empathy with them.
  • It enables them to take a step back in certain situations and consider other reasons why a child behaves in a certain way.
  • It helps to understand children’s emotions and behaviours, what they are going through and find strategies to help.

Playworkers must be empathetic with children, even when frustrated, angry or stressed. For example, an adult thinks a child is taking too long to complete a specific activity and tells them to hurry up. In this scenario, the adult reacts to how they feel, not what is happening with the child. Empathy is acknowledging the child’s feelings and thoughts and understanding them.

Active listening

Active listening is also a top quality and a key communication skill for a playworker. It involves getting down to a child’s level, listening intently to what they have to say and giving them your full attention without judgment. It also encompasses understanding what children mean and their intent by:

  • Reflecting on what they heard.
  • Repeating what they have said to check accuracy.
  • Asking questions to check understanding.
  • Avoiding distractions when talking to them to show interest.
  • Using posture, body language, eye contact, facial expressions and tone of voice to indicate a willingness to listen.
  • Summarising to demonstrate that they were heard and understood.

It can sometimes be tricky to understand what children mean, especially when they are younger and have limited words. Having active listening as a skill can:

  • Help playworkers communicate more clearly with children.
  • Build more effective relationships with children.
  • Enable children to feel heard and understood.
  • Be an effective tool in resolving conflicts between children.
  • Encourage children to communicate, which can improve their own communication skills and relationships with others.
  • Avoid playworkers making assumptions about children’s needs and wants, which can have negative impacts. It can also prevent misunderstandings.
  • Enable playworkers to connect with children and build trust and mutual respect.

Active listening and empathy go hand-in-hand in effective communication, e.g. recognising children’s feelings, paying attention to the emotion behind their words and being aware that meanings can often depend on mood, feelings and context.

Further information on active listening:

Top Five Qualities Needed to Become a Playworker

4. Creativity and Imagination


A playworker’s role will involve designing engaging, inclusive play activities and environments to meet the diverse needs of the children in their particular setting. Therefore, an essential quality for them to possess is creativity, which means being able to:

  • Come up with new and original ideas using their imagination.
  • Consider new and different ways to approach a task.
  • Solve complex problems in interesting and unique ways
  • Look at things from a different perspective.
  • Experiment.
  • Be open-minded and curious.

Play can also foster creativity and imagination in children, and they will often decide what, how and when they play. They will require access to novel materials, equipment, resources and playwork settings that support freely chosen self-directed play.

According to Play Scotland, “children’s play experiences are enriched by skilled Playworkers who can turn physical spaces into places of opportunity, imagination and belonging”.

Playworkers must cultivate their creativity and use imagination to develop wide-ranging, quality activities and create engaging and enriching spaces for children to get the most out of their play experiences.

For those worried about not being creative, there are lots of resources, ideas and tips online. Play Ideas by Play Scotland is a good starting point.


Creativity relies on imagination. Albert Einstein once said:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

This quote can apply to playwork. While playworkers obviously need to know playwork theories and principles, they must also have a vivid imagination to succeed. A vivid imagination is the ability to use your mind to form pictures or ideas of new and exciting things or things you have not experienced (Collins English Dictionary).

A vivid imagination allows playworkers to explore ideas that are not physically present, e.g. pirate ships and fairy wonderlands. It helps them to invent new ways for children to express themselves. They must use their imagination to design a wide range of high-quality and exciting play experiences.

For playwork to support children’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being and development, the spaces in which they play should inspire them and cultivate their own creativity and imagination.

Top Five Qualities Needed to Become a Playworker

5. Strong Communication and Interpersonal Skills

Communication skills

Communication skills are the ability to convey and receive information through various means, e.g. verbal, written, non-verbal (e.g. body language) and visual. For communication to be effective, it requires clear and respectful speaking and active listening.

Having excellent communication skills is important for playworkers, as they will interact with various stakeholders such as:

  • Children of different ages, backgrounds and abilities.
  • Parents or caregivers.
  • Colleagues.

They may also interact with members of the public and the professional community, depending on their role and the setting in which they work.

The ability to communicate effectively is essential for playworkers because it:

  • Helps them to convey information clearly, consistently and concisely and prevent misunderstandings.
  • Allows children to communicate their wants and needs verbally or using body language. Children must understand and be understood.
  • Makes children feel important and valued.
  • Establishes and maintains positive relationships with all stakeholders and builds understanding and trust.
  • Is key for a child’s development and capacity to learn.
  • Helps children to develop skills when communicating with others.
  • Encourages active listening, which is especially important when working with children.
  • Enables information to be shared between parents, caregivers and other professionals to ensure the play space is healthy, safe and secure.
  • Helps them with communication challenges, e.g. development, physical, cultural, social, and emotional.

Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills, which are sometimes known as people or soft skills, are what people need when communicating, interacting and working with others. They are vital in starting, building and sustaining positive relationships and can include our innate traits, e.g. body language, attitude and behaviour, and the ability to handle social situations, i.e. how we greet people and our manners.

As playworkers will work with and interact with various stakeholders, such as children, colleagues, parents and caregivers, they must have excellent interpersonal skills to be successful in their job role. They must build/maintain positive relationships to meet children’s needs within their playwork setting. For example:

  • They will need to work and collaborate with their colleagues as part of a team when planning, organising and delivering engaging play opportunities and environments and find solutions if any problems arise.
  • They must interact and communicate with children effectively to understand their needs and provide them with safe and engaging play experiences, even during behavioural challenges.
  • They must share knowledge and experience and work with parents and caregivers to support children’s well-being and development.
  • They need to show respect for others regardless of their backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, identities, etc.
  • They must have empathy and active listening skills to work with children, their parents and caregivers.
  • They will likely have to deal with conflicts between colleagues, children and parents/caregivers, which they must resolve appropriately. There may also be times when they are involved in conflicts themselves.

Some further information is in Managing Playworkers and Working with Other Adults – Play Wales.

Top Five Qualities Needed to Become a Playworker

Bonus: Safety Consciousness

Maintaining a safe play environment is essential, as it keeps children safe from harm and allows them to feel more comfortable and relaxed. It also encourages children’s learning and enhances their development if they can play freely and safely.

Playworkers play a pivotal role in protecting children and ensuring they have access to a healthy, safe and secure play environment during playwork. Parents and caregivers also expect their children to be safe when cared for and supported by others. Therefore, having a strong focus on safety is an additional quality that can enhance a playworker’s effectiveness.

Safety consciousness is being aware of any hazards (things with the potential to cause harm) and alert to any dangers to children during playwork. There is a potential for children to be injured or fall ill during play, which could result in serious consequences. Therefore, playworkers need to assess and manage the risk of harm to children from playwork activities and environments.

Being safety conscious does not mean stopping children from taking risks, as there is evidence that risky play has benefits (Play Wales). The eighth Playwork Principle states:

“Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well-being of children.”

Being safety conscious and knowing and understanding health and safety, especially regarding hazards and risk, will help playworkers adopt a balanced approach to risk management when planning, organising and facilitating play opportunities. Further information on risk management is on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Play Scotland.

Top Five Qualities Needed to Become a Playworker


The skills and qualities playworkers need will depend on their role and the setting in which they work. However, having the top qualities mentioned in this blog post is essential to becoming a successful playworker.

Playworkers must have a passion for play and child development and the patience to work with children in a playwork environment. They will also need to be adaptable and flexible to provide the best possible play experiences and use their creativity and imagination to design fun, engaging and stimulating play opportunities and environments that meet the needs of all children.

Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are essential, as it is a people-facing role, and playworkers will need to interact and develop positive relationships with children, parents, caregivers and colleagues. Also, safety consciousness and the ability to spot hazards/dangers and balance/manage risk are a bonus.

Some skills and qualities may come naturally to some people. However, it does not mean they cannot be learned and developed through education, training and experience. Dedication, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn can help those aspiring to work in playwork. They should also reflect on existing qualities and consider how to improve in these areas.

Please feel free to use the comments section to share individual experiences or insights relating to playwork qualities to help those already in the profession and others interested in this dynamic career.

Top Five Qualities Needed to Become a Playworker
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