The Integral Play Framework and Simply Play

Simply Play is a tool to assess the play value of a playable space. Its development was based on the Integral Play Framework (Else, 1999, 2009).

It is clear when observing children that they do not play just one type of game or activity; they will change their actions and behaviour according to a whole host of things – who they play with, whether adults are present, how much energy they have, what the weather is doing and what the space is like.

Playing is apparent in the actions that children use, but also in the themes that they follow in their play. These actions and themes might be to do with gross physical movement (running and jumping), subtle physical movement (drawing, sorting things, using instruments), roles within their play (whose leading and whose following), relationships (who’s in my gang, who’s new, who’s older, who knows more) and personal feelings to do with self-esteem, confidence and personal identity. Many theorists have claimed that these separate actions are the key to play, for example using surplus energy, socialising, and cognitive development. But there is growing evidence that when playing, children do not play for these reasons; they play for the satisfaction they get in the moment of play (they are not playing to be better adults), the flexibility of playing helps brain growth and brain ‘plasticity’ – its ability to do new things – and yes it helps children learn skills and knowledge for life, but in a way that makes sense to them, not because they have been taught it.

The Integral Play Framework helps us look at play from this holistic perspective and so the criteria within the tool assess opportunities for physical play, but also for team play, cultural play and creative or imaginative play to name a few. The full list of criteria is shown in the Simply Play Tool itself.

Professor Perry Else, Sheffield Hallam University

For more on the Integral Play Framework, see

Else P. (2014) Making Sense Of Play.London. Open University Press

Else P. (2009) The Value of Play. London, Continuum


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