Within this guest blog post, Marianne Mannello from Play Wales emphasises the importance of giving children the permission, space and time to play in order to deal with uncertainty and challenge. Detail is provided on the research and advocation work that Play Wales participates in alongside its partners; and highlights how organisations are now calling for a focus on play & mental health, rather than curriculum catch-up due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The post ends with the 15 step guidance that Play Wales provides for schools, and you can get in touch with them by email to discuss their work.
Play Wales is the national charity for children’s play in Wales. We campaign for a play-friendly Wales and champion every child’s right to play.
In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, Play Wales alongside partners, educational psychologists and researchers contributed to the development of a position statement for the British Psychological Society highlighting the importance of play in helping children deal with uncertainty and challenge, regulate emotions and experience fun, enjoyment and freedom. Children explained why they valued play and how important it was to them, in an accompanying video.
Right to Play Video – Children explaining why they value play
Playing can help promote well-being in terms of helping children to:
- make sense of what has happened to them;
- deal with emotional upset and regain control of their lives;
- experience normality and pleasure during times of upheaval, loss, isolation and trauma;
- foster resilience through promoting emotional regulation, creativity, relationships, problem-solving and learning.
During lockdown and the subsequent easing of restrictions, there have been calls for schools to prioritise play as part of recovery and transition back to formal education. Children’s rights advocates are calling for the focus to be on play and mental health, rather than ‘curriculum catch-up’.
Prior to the pandemic, in summer 2019, Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales, published Healthy and happy – school impact on pupils’ health and wellbeing report which evaluated how well primary and secondary schools in Wales support the health and well-being of their pupils. It noted the importance of school play and break times. The report highlighted that schools that apply a whole school approach to supporting health and well-being provide an environment, facilities and space to play, socialise and relax at break times. It raises concerns that when a school can’t or don’t provide these, pupils are less physically active and can find it hard to relax during playtimes, which affects their well-being.
At about the same time, Play Wales noted an increase in parents getting in touch with concerns about the shortening of school days which resulted in reduced playtime, and also, the withdrawal of it as part of behaviour management policy. Due to these concerns, increased queries and to respond to Estyn’s report, we published A play friendly school – Guidance for a whole school approach for schools so that children can enjoy sufficient playtimes as part of their school day.
The right to play
All children need to play. The Play Wales guidance provides policy and practice related information to help school communities take a whole school approach to support children’s right to play. Designed to enhance the good work already being done to provide better play opportunities in school, it aims to make everyone’s time at school happier and healthier.
Children have a right to play, as recognised in article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Playing is one of the most immediate and important aspects of children’s lives – they value the time, the space and the freedom to play.
As an indication of the significance the United Nations places on children’s play it has published General comment number 17 on Article 31. This is an official statement that elaborates on the meaning of an aspect of the UNCRC that requires further interpretation or emphasis. The General Comment defines play as children doing as they wish in their own time and in their own way. It has the key characteristics of fun, uncertainty, challenge, flexibility and non-productivity.
The General Comment specifically states that schools have a major role to play, including through the provision of outdoor and indoor spaces that afford opportunities for all forms of playing and for all children, and that the structure of the school day should allow sufficient time and space for play.
Studies have shown that access to playtime initiatives (for example through providing traditional play activities, playground equipment, loose parts play materials and staff who understand play) has resulted in happier pupils, significantly fewer incidents and accidents, and pupils returning to class ready to learn.
Children’s opportunities for playing in all settings are dependent on a wide range of issues, which are arranged across three themes of:
- Permission: fear, expectations, tolerance, and the way adults view childhood and play
- Space: the amount, design and management of space
- Time: how time is structured and the obligations children have on their time.
Our guidance provides the policy background and practice related information to address the three conditions of permission, space and time for play. The guidance is summarised in 15 steps to a play friendly school and provides tools to implement them.
Around the world, teachers report that children have less time to play at school now than in previous years. A recent report notes that, since 1995, the youngest children have lost 45 minutes a week and children aged 11-16 years old have lost over 65 minutes.
The demands on schools to achieve academic targets must not be put above the duty to protect the health and well-being of the pupils in their care. Time and space allocated to play is associated with pupil well-being and should therefore be considered as a positive element of school life.
A play friendly school – Guidance for a whole school approach is freely available on the Play Wales website.
Author Short Biography
Marianne is an Assistant Director: Policy, Support and Advocacy at Play Wales, the national charity for children’s play, in Wales, UK. She has over 30 years experience in many aspects of play and playwork, including play policy consultation and development. Marianne has worked with the Welsh Government to support the development of a toolkit to support local authorities to undertake statutory Play Sufficiency Assessments. She is a member of and the Active Healthy Kids (AHK) expert group and the Wales United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Monitoring (UNCRC) Group.
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