The last two weeks I have had the joy of working on a playscheme, the team I worked with included artists, sports coaches, forest school leader, playworkers, and nurture workers. We represented 6 organisations and we worked with 2 bubbles of children, with 42 children altogether, from 28 families and 9 schools, funded by St Johns foundation. The children were aged 4-11. Our ethos was based on high-quality early years practice, following children’s interests underpinned by a nurture approach. The whole play scheme was delivered outside on a school site, in their forest school area.
Before it began I was slightly nervous about how it would be, sometimes playschemes can be manic, especially if there is a team of adults who think the way forward to is to hype children. This play scheme was intentionally well planned with calm adults and a nurturing basis. The team leader and I have a long background in the early years and we wanted a playscheme that would nurture children and offer them open-ended opportunities in the way many early years settings offer. The aim was also to offer sports, art, play in an outdoor provision to support the children’s mental health and wellbeing. We knew that this could work across the ages of 4-11 and it did.
For many of these children lockdown has been a tricky experience, quite a few of the children had not been socialising with people outside their family, some of the children lived in flats with a limited outdoor provision, for many of the children lockdown had been a stressful experience and has negatively impacted their social, emotional and mental health. The children were identified and nominated by their schools. My role was to support the emotional wellbeing of the staff and children, we intentionally had a high ratio of adult to child, enabling us to offer the safety and emotional regulation that the children needed.
Part of the reason the playscheme worked so well, better than any of us imagined or hoped for, was the multidisciplinary team. Children were able to choose the things they wanted to do and the staff was able to facilitate and support this, one little boy discovered he is really good at hockey, he told us he hates sports but he tried hockey and loved it, another child discovered she loves making things with clay, other children experienced a campfire for the first time, the children together with the play workers made a wooden treehouse and took pride in what they had made. One boy on the last day wanted to chop down a tree, this was made possible with the support of staff, as there was a tree on the site that needed removing. Throughout the playscheme the children found space to be with others, to chat about how they were feeling, to express themselves through art and sport and play.
For years I have been been a huge advocate of following children’s interests and enabling children to discover new things and opportunities by offering open-ended provocations. This play scheme reminded me again of how powerful it can be when children have adults around them who can follow the child’s interests, who can come alongside them with interest and curiosity and co adventure with them. We hoped at the beginning that the playscheme would offer respite to the children from the ongoing challenges of COVID, we hoped that it would give them the freedom to play and socialise. It certainly did this, but for many of the children, it also gave them new opportunities, helped them to see themselves in new ways and discover new things about what they can do and enjoy. As we all reflected at the end, this playscheme also hugely benefitted the staff, there was a lot of laughter and delight at being with the children, it gave us a renewed sense of purpose and reconnected us to work we all love and are passionate about.
My final reflection on the time was how crucial these 2 weeks were for the children’s wellbeing, on the return to school my concern is that many schools will go back to how it was before lockdown. During lockdown many children have not had the chance to be with friends, socialise, play, be active and be creative. This needs to be addressed, I would love to see every school putting on a playscheme for all their children on the return, how radical and positive that would be. I know I am dreaming big here, and I know many will tell me it is out of the question. But, there does need to be an emphasis on children’s wellbeing when they return, and using the arts, play, sport and emotional support is an excellent way to assist that.
The organisations involved were: