Dr Pete King on the Play Cycle and Loose Parts

In this interview, Dr Pete King discusses the Play Cycle theory and how it has evolved over the past 25 years. The play cycle theory was first introduced in 1998 in a paper by Gordon Sturrock and Professor Perry Else – The Colorado Paper - and consists of six elements. These have been refined further by Dr King to become pre cue, play cue, play return, play frame, flow, and annihilation.

Dr King explains how the theories of loose parts, affordances, and Von Uexküll’s functional cycle can be incorporated into the Play Cycle, making it a more robust theory. We also discuss the 4 different levels of adult involvement with children’s play and how this can affect the Play Cycle and play frame.
· May 19, 2023

Dr Pete King has a PhD in Childhood Studies from Swansea University and is the programme manager for the MA Developmental and Therapeutic Play and MA Childhood Studies Programmes. Pete’s research has been published both nationally and internationally and his current book, ‘The Play Cycle: Theory, Research and Application’, incorporates both current theory and research of the Play Cycle.

We discuss the research carried out by Dr King and his colleague Dr. Shelly Newstead on the Play Cycle, which was first introduced as a 1998 conference paper in Colorado by Gordon Sturrock and Professor Perry Else.

The play cycle is broken down into six elements: pre cue, play cue, play return, play frame, flow, and annihilation. Dr. King has proposed an addition to the play cycle incorporating Von Uexküll’s functional cycle, Nicholson’s loose parts and Gibson’s affordances.

Pete is a speaker at the upcoming 22nd International Play Association Triennial World Conference on 6th-9th June 2023 in Glasgow where the focus is on how to improve children’s right to play and to create possibilities for the future.




The Play Cycle (in a nutshell): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Qfqjy4IHr0&t=40s

Dr King’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@drpeteking1751

Further Reading:

King, P. & Newstead, S. (2019). Re-defining the Play Cycle – an empirical study on playworkers’ understanding of playwork theory. Journal of Early Childhood Research.

Sturrock G and Else, P. (1998) ‘The Colorado Paper’ – The playground as therapeutic space: Playwork as healing. In P Else and G Sturrock (Ed.) (2006), Therapeutic playwork reader one 1995– 2000 (pp. 73–104). Eastleigh, Common Threads Publications Ltd:


A Theoretical Expansion of the Play Cycle Jakob von Uexküll’s Functional Cycle and the Perceptual Cue by Dr Pete King available here: https://www.museumofplay.org/app/uploads/2022/08/14-2-Article-3-Play-Cycle.pdf

Nicholson, Simon. (1971). “How NOT to Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts.” Landscape Architecture 62:30–34.

Gibson, James Jerome. (1986). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.

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