National Play Day

National Play Day 2020

Every year on the 1st August in National Play Day.  A day when organisations, children and families get out to play at hundreds of community events across the UK.  It’s a celebration of play and a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of play in children’s lives.

Playday.org.uk

This year Play Day is different.  Normally the campaign co-ordinates hundreds of events, getting children together to play in communities everywhere.  Due to current government guidance about social gatherings and distancing because of the Covid crisis, they are asking people not to organise public Playday 2020 events.  Instead, the emphasis is on encouraging families to play at home.

Where did Playday come from?

Playday started in 1986.  A group of playworkers were concerned about cuts and closures of play centres in London. They decided to have a day for play to raise the profile of these issues.  By 1981 this was a national event and last year there were more than 850 events across the UK celebrating playday and highlighting the importance of play.  It’s now coordinated by Play England, in partnership with Play Wales, Play Scotland and PlayBoard Northern Ireland.

What can you do for playday?

Events can be as small as a group of friends, a school or a playgroup getting the children together for a day of play, imagination and creativity in a hall, woods or park, or as large as a massive organised festival or street party.

This year for Playday, there are two things you can do:

Play @ Home

Here are some ideas to get them off those screens to celebrate play day today:

  • dressing up and role-play – stimulates empathy, development of emotional literacy and language skills.  Whether you set up a vet surgery for the soft toys, a mud kitchen restaurant, a “cops and robbers” scenario or play schools.
  • card or board games
  • running around games – remember hide and seek, sardines, tag?
  • building – whether you are building a townscape with wooden blocks, turning cardboard boxes into a train, car, doll-house or city, using Lego or modelling, you will be developing imagination, creativity and story-making skills.
  • simple games – marbles, jacks, tic-tac-toe, battleships, hopscotch, bottle bowling.
  • outdoor games – football, french cricket, “Robin Hood”.

There are some amazing ideas on: 

The Genius of Play

Campaign

Use social media as a power for good.  Raise awareness of the importance of play.  It’s fundamental for children’s health, development and happiness.  Post ideas of ways you can play.  Share images of you and your children enjoying play.  Use #playday2020.

I’d love to hear what you do to celebrate Playday today.  Please do comment below and share your play.

 

As a society we have just been through (and are still dealing with) a global crisis the like of which hasn’t been seen for a century.  Across the world schools and businesses have been closed and movement and socialising have been restricted in an attempt to slow the spread of the covid-19 virus.  This virus can cause no symptoms in many, but can be deadly to others.  We know that play is crucial to social development and learning, so what is the impact of covid on children’s social development?  What effect has this crisis had on playfulness, and where do we go from here?

Where play suffered

When you think about what play is, you realise that this crisis will inevitably have had an impact on it.  Play is spontaneous, internally motivated and creative.  Play is undertaken for the joy of the activity. 

For several months our children have been stuck at home, unable to socialise with their peers, unable to visit play-parks.  For some, this has meant being confined in a dwelling or flat, while others have had access to gardens and the countryside.  Parents have been anxious about the risk of infection for themselves and loved ones, but also about the security of their jobs as businesses have been closed for protracted periods, and dealing with the stress of supporting their child with learning at home while the schools have been closed.  

With little option, and in many cases having to use this for school work too, many children have turned to their screens for solace.

There are children out there who may fall into one or more of the following groups:

  • key worker or vulnerable children who have been at school throughout the crisis, sitting at individual desks and separated at play-times.
  • children who have been at home with parents who have been supporting multiple children while also attempting to work from home.
  • children who have been at home with parents who are extremely anxious about either the virus or financial instability
  • children who have been parked in front of a screen throughout the crisis
  • children who have suffered loss and grief because of the covid crisis.
  • children for whom home is not a safe place – perhaps due to poverty, homelessness, addiction or abuse.

These children will have experienced some form of play deprivation during lock-down.

Where play has triumphed

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, and boredom can often be a catalyst for creativity.  Where parents have been furloughed (at home but not working) and where there are siblings, there has been time to build relationships and play in a way that may never have been possible before in our over-timetabled society.

Many people and companies have shared their resources for free to give parents ideas and activities to do indoors with their little ones.  It’s possible that some families have realised that play doesn’t have to be a bought-in, organised commodity relying on foam filled climbing frames and ball pits.  They have enjoyed spending time with one another and have discovered their playfulness.

Children in these groups:

  • children with siblings to play with
  • children with at least one parent at home who is not having to work (either stay-at-home parent or furloughed) who has the inclination to spend time playing with the child

will have done much better both with their academic work learning from home, but also with the ability to be creative, to socialise, to come up with new activities and ideas.

Where do we go from here?

There’s a pretty huge gulf opened up during this crisis both financially, academically and socially.  We can’t even begin to count the psychological and social cost this pandemic has had on our children until things begin to return to normal in September and perhaps we won’t truly know for many years.  It’s true that children are resilient.  However, it is widely known that childhood is key for building social skills, for developing creativity and for developing neural pathways.  History has shown that children who are deprived of play have psychological and social problems as adults (an extreme example, but many children who spent time in Romanian orphanages in the 1980s have still got psychological and social problems as adults, even after 30 years living in loving adoptive families).  Our children have been deprived of play and of wider social interaction for several months, at a crucial time in their development.

Our priority needs to be to get children playing again.  Of course, we want to ensure that they are safe, and we want to avoid transmission of this dreadful virus, but to reduce the impact of covid on children’s social development has to be a priority.

“Our priority needs to be to get children playing again.”

If you can’t get out of the house, set up a video call with a group of friends, preferably with a couple of games or craft activities pre-arranged so they can play and interact in a positive way.  Another alternative would be to initiate a creative task, for example creating an imaginary world.  They can work on it separately but share their creations.  For example, one person could draw a map, another could create characters and then they could email one another with stories based in this world.  Even better if it leads to model making and a game that could continue once they are able to meet up again.  

If you can get out of the house, do so.  Go and play in the woods.  Set up a picnic and let the children play.  A few children with some trees and sticks won’t need much prompting for play, but if in doubt read the stories of Robin Hood, Winnie the Pooh or Red Riding Hood before you go.  A little nudge for the imagination should provide enough ideas for hours of play!

If you have a garden, invite a few of your child’s friends over.  Remind them of the importance of social distancing and hand-washing, and then let them play.  If they are a little unsure what to play (and seem to be hanging around looking for inspiration) then create a fort / tent using old sheets and an airer, create a potion station using some jam jars and a pestle and mortar, get out a box of cars or lego and then just watch them play.

writing for pleasure

“She’s loving all the work you’ve been setting recently.  Except the writing.”  This was something I heard several times when speaking to parents during the lock-down.  It worried me.  I’d worked hard to plan work that was engaging and creative.  But these children had learnt to dislike writing before they got to age 6, and it wasn’t going to be easy to convince them otherwise.

Writing falls into two broad camps.  Writing to communicate, and writing for pleasure.  

Writing as a form of communication

is things like:

  • Reports for the boss
  • Information texts
  • Instructional texts like recipes
  • Letters, emails, texts and tweets
  • Newspaper and magazine articles and blog posts.

It’s important when you are writing for communication that you follow the rules of grammar and spelling and the expected form of the genre.  This ensures that the person / people reading your writing gets the meaning from it that you intended.

Writing for pleasure

is just for you.  It’s writing because you want to, as a form of expression.  This might be:

  • Journalling,
  • Poetry
  • stories

When we are writing for pleasure, it isn’t so important whether anybody else can read it because it isn’t for anybody else.  Just for you.

Clearly, there’s an overlap.  We can take great pleasure in writing for communication and I certainly enjoy writing my blog and writing a good letter.  In addition, stories and poetry intended for publication must be clear and adhere to those same rules as writing for communication.

 

The sad thing is that children in school are missing out on writing for pleasure.  Before they even reach age 5 they are supposed to have moved on from the delightful emergent writing “mark-making” stage to writing “simple sentences that can be read by themselves and others” (EYFS Framework, England).  From this point on they are taught phonics and an ever increasing repertoire of grammatical terminology.  By the end of Key Stage 1 (age 6-7) children’s writing is being assessed on their ability to spell, to form neat handwriting, to write narrative, to use punctuation and tense and subordinate clauses.

 

The focus on the technical aspects of spelling, handwriting and punctuation is great from a writing for communication perspective (though when, as an adult, you would ever need to know whether you have used the present progressive or present perfect tense is beyond me) but for many children it has led to writing being a chore.  I’ve seen teachers recommending almost a formulaic approach – “Open your first sentence with a simile.  Make sure your next sentence has a subordinate clause.”  Even I have ended up saying, “Check, have you included a question mark yet?  If not, try to get a question in the next couple of sentences,” as I’ve tried to tick the Assessment tick-boxes that say that the child needs to use a range of sentence types.  Children are taught the structure and form of different genres, without the real sense of purpose that goes with them.  Teachers do their best to make their lessons fun and purposeful.  I’ve seen a Reception classroom with a “crashed spaceship” in the corner where the children are busy writing letters to the missing alien.  The headteacher claimed that the local council were planning to extend the leisure centre next door and we would lose half the playground so the whole school could write persuasive letters to argue why this shouldn’t happen.  However, with such a focus on getting the technical aspects right, it is very hard to help children discover the pleasure of writing spontaneously and creatively.

Because that’s the difference.  Writing for pleasure needs to be an intrinsic form of self expression – it can’t be an externally dictated exercise.

A simple answer

I covered an absence in one school where each child had a “journal”.  The end of the afternoon on Friday was journal time.  They had been bought beautiful notebooks.  During that time on the Friday afternoon they were asked to fill a page or two of their journals.  These were private and were not collected in, though if they wanted some feedback they could leave it on the teacher’s desk.  They could write or draw or both.  They could use fancy pens and colours.  They were not told what to write, though there was a list of prompts to help them if they were stuck for an idea.  These children all loved their “journal time”.  I saw beautifully illustrated poetry, short stories, diary entries and comic strips, a recipe for a good friend.  What I loved was that these children were putting into practice the technical and structural features they had been learning in their Literacy lessons, but they were doing it in a way that was completely theirs.  They were learning that writing can be pleasurable and creative.  

To read more:

Writing for Pleasure course for 8-11 year olds

I offer a 5 day “Writing for Pleasure” course for 8-11 year olds to rediscover the pleasure of writing as a creative art.  I guide the children through different genres, exploring and playing with form.  The course is made of 5 x 30 minute exploratory sharing sessions:

  1. Short stories
  2. Poetry
  3. Journaling
  4. The writing community – sharing your writing
  5. Improving our writing

There are no “homework tasks” from these sessions and children are encouraged but not compelled to share their writing.  The atmosphere is fun and supportive.  Click here to find the dates and sign up for the next course.

the playful family

Why build a playful family?

Do you ever find yourself wondering where the fun has gone from family life?  You and your partner used to have fun, right?  That’s why you chose to spend life together.  Somehow, the joy is harder to find as you work hard to keep a roof over your heads, ferry children from one activity to the next, arrive at home and all collapse in front of your various screens.  Is this what it’s really all about?

In recent months many of us have spent more time with our partners and children than perhaps we have ever spent before.  It’s been hard!  Attempting to work from home, manage the children’s learning and somehow keep everybody on an emotional even keel can put strain on even the best family relationships.

It was when I realised that I was worrying about my to do list and not enjoying spending time with my children, and that they were crying out for some positive attention as they tried to navigate their way through the covid lockdown, that I knew we needed to put some playfulness back in our family life.

“Play is any activity that allows you for a moment to celebrate your existence wholeheartedly and unashamedly.”  Rebecca Abrams

Playfulness doesn’t have to involve getting down and playing Barbies with your four-year-old daughter… though of course it can. 

Instead, Playfulness is about building a better family relationships by having fun together.  In a stressful world, where we’ve got used to being “grown up”, sometimes that can be hard to find.  Here are some ways to find a more playful family relationship:

Family game time

The first thing I introduced was game time.  We spend so long telling the children that we are “too busy” to play.  I wanted to ensure that they knew that playtime was now a priority, so after dinner every day for a week, we played a game.  Sometimes it was darts, sometimes cards, once Scrabble.  It was a time for us all to do something together.  After that, if any member of the family suggests a game of any sort, I’m in.

Share humour

In the back of the car yesterday my son made a comment about the funny name of a village we passed.  I put down my magazine and joined and extended the joke.  We spent the next ten minutes giggling as we played with village names and had fun together.

Race and rough and tumble together

I used to play a great game with my children (I think I read about it in the wonderful Tom Hodgkinson’s “The Idle Parent”).  It’s called “Tickle or Trap”.  You, the parent, need only sit on the sofa.  The children run up to you and you ask “Tickle or trap?”  If they say “Tickle” then you have to grab them and tickle them, if they say “trap” then you have to grab hold of them and give them a big hug.  The idea is that they have to run away when they say the word so you have to catch them to trap or tickle, but in reality they are loving the rough and tumble so much that they don’t move fast and before long you are both dissolved in giggles.  Now my children are a bit bigger but they still absolutely love it when I join them for a game of hide and seek, sardines, tickle-fighting or other such nonsense, and I’ll quite often liven up a walk with a “race you to that tree!”

Enjoy a crisis

As a child I have fond memories of car break-downs.  In my memory we spent a lot of time jump-starting the car, but certainly every family holiday involved a ride in a recovery truck at some point.  To us, this was a huge adventure!  Sometimes, when things go wrong, the best way to deal with it is with a healthy dose of humour and a spirit of adventure.  Compare these two walks:

  1. Walking in the Malverns, my daughter lost her camera.  I was furious.  We retraced our steps to try and find it, I lost the dog lead, then we lost the dog.  We found the dog, returned eventually to the car-park where a lady handed us the missing camera (she’d recognised us from the photos).  
  2. The route on the map took us across a golf course.  I think I exited the golf course at the wrong place because we ended up wading through a field of head-high ferns and nettles, lifting the dog and the children over a barbed-wire fence or two.  

In both walks, all ended well.  However, the second walk is remembered fondly by all as a great adventure, while the first was an absolute disaster.  The difference was entirely in how I reacted to the crises on the day.

Be a bit spontaneous

Routines are great for helping to ground children and make them feel secure.  However, one of the best things about a routine is the joy of breaking that routine every now and then.  Get the children up before dawn and climb a hill to watch the sunrise.  The adventure is in the unusual.

The adventure is in the unusual.

Gamify the boring stuff

Children find transitioning from one activity to another hard.  When they are engrossed in what they are doing they find it hard to extricate themselves and move on to the next task.  In addition, tidying up, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and putting shoes on are all necessary but irritating intrusions on the fun part of the day.  You’ve got two options… you can either nag and scold the child and end up frustrated, cross and late… or you can join your child in the play that they are engrossed in, engage with them briefly there, and then move them on:  “Shall we park the cars over here so they can wait for you when you come back?  Great!  You parked yours quickly.  Now… I bet you get your shoes on the right feet.  I’ll do up this shoe, you do the other one.  If you brush your teeth for two minutes I’ll let you tickle me for 10 seconds!”  

For yourself, think about how you can make your boring tasks more fun.  I hate ironing, but I love to put on my cheesiest, most karaoke friendly music and sing loudly while I do it.  Suddenly the job seems more fun. 

Make mealtimes fun

By the time they are 18 children will have experienced over 6000 meal times.  Nothing makes me sadder than the sight of families out for a meal together with the children fixed to a screen while they wait.  This is a time when the family are altogether and it doesn’t take much to infuse it with a bit of fun to help build family relationships.  You could read from a joke book, play a word game or ask silly (deeply philosophical) questions: if you were an animal, what would you be?  What colour was today?

Humour me

Sometimes children can be emotional or angry.  That’s absolutely fine.  No emotion is unacceptable.  However, we need to help our children to manage their response to their emotions and to move through them.  A great way to do this is with a sense of humour.  While acknowledging their feelings, try to get them to see the funny side of the situation.  As I say to my children, “you have no control over what has happened, but you do have control over how you react to it.”  The question, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” is a good one.  It not only helps put things in perspective, but its also an avenue to come up with all sorts of preposterous possibilities which can inject a dose of humour.

Playfulness helps build family relationships

Playfulness means having fun, letting go, being yourself and being creative.  Playfulness means sharing joy and making one another happy.  This is what family life should be all about.  We are there for one another in tough times, and we help one another find the pleasure in everyday life.  Society today is increasingly fragmented.  Mental health issues, obesity and suicide are all on the rise.  Stronger family relationships, built by having fun together, are key to building resilience and mental strength.  They give us the confidence to go out there and make the world a better place.  

A family that plays together, stays together.

happy and productive workplace

happy workplace

How playfulness benefits business – creativity

We live in a fast-paced, changing world.  Businesses that are unable to adapt cannot keep up and will not last.  The ability to improvise, to evolve and to find new and better ways of working is key to success.  Playfulness and creativity go hand-in-hand, so to encourage creativity in your workplace, you need to encourage a sort of playfulness and develop a happy workplace.

Some of the most amazing businesses and inventions have developed from play.  Play-doh, for example, was originally a compound designed for cleaning wallpaper designed by Noah McVicker.  Noah’s nephew heard his sister-in-law complaining that modelling clay was hard for the children in her nursery to manipulate and sent her some of the wall-paper cleaning putty to play with.  Play-doh was born.  Google Maps came about because, during a meeting, somebody was fiddling about with satellite mapping technology on their computer and they realised the potential.  The telescope came about because some children were playing with lenses.  When we fiddle and play about, we are creative and explore possibilities.

It does require patience.  In a world where every hour must be accounted for and outcomes assessed, play requires the opposite.  Creativity is whimsical.  It may not show returns every time, but in the long term new ideas and connections come forth and your business can evolve and develop.

How to make a happy workplace

Look for the joy

Excitement and happiness are both contagious. 

 As an employee recruiting new workers, consider whether they are going to increase the net happiness in your workplace.  A worker with a naturally happy disposition will help create a happy workplace culture. 

For yourself as a worker, try to recapture that excitement you felt when you took on your new job, or decided on your career.  Talk to your boss about making the workplace a more positive and happy place to be.  If you’re in a workplace where creativity and happiness are not valued, then maybe it’s time to rethink your career.  (I did!)

Management

The number one reason that people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated.

It follows, then, that the number one way to increase the happiness and productivity of your workplace is to show your employees that you value them.  There are different ways to achieve this:

  • make your expectations clear and then trust people to do the job you’ve asked them to, without micro-managing them
  • a simple pat on the back and comment on what they’ve done well
  • a public acknowledgement – employee of the week or star-worker board
  • find out what their goals are and help them to work towards them
  • find out more about them as a person – what do they do outside work?
  • listen to all suggestions of how to make work better – not just your senior management team
  • be flexible about work-life balance.  If you don’t allow your loyal worker to go and watch their 5 year old in her first class assembly, they won’t feel quite so happy or loyal.  Let them go, they’ll repay you by working doubly hard when they return.

Chat / informal times

Encourage chat.  Let your workers get to know one another, encourage them to greet one another, to chat over coffee, to compliment work well done.  Provide space for this to happen.  Sure, you’ll get one or two workers who start out by taking advantage of this to avoid work and moan about the boss, but as happiness, company loyalty and productivity increase, they will soon step up.

Creativity is key

In team meetings develop a culture where no idea is off the table.  This removes the fetters and allows and encourages playful and creative thinking.  You may get some daft ideas but you will also get some truly creative gems that with a bit of polish could transform your business.

Outside of work

Workers spend a lot of time together in work and begin to build friendships.  Develop these friendships further with some outside work activities.

Work is often seen as a bit of a drudge.  You go, you get the job done, you go home.  Often our work places are focused on uniformity, efficiency (or the lack of it!) and serious action.  Playfulness, however, can make an enormous difference to the whole ethos and productivity of a company.  For the employees it can make the difference between a job they love and a job they just turn up at.  Playfulness in the workplace is really important.

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Plato

How playfulness benefits business – productivity

It’s true – happy workers are more productive workers.  Researchers at Said Business School at the University of Oxford have found conclusive links between happiness and productivity.  They found that workers are 13% more productive when they are happier.  In addition, a study by the Harvard Business School suggests that disengaged (unhappy) workers are involved in 37% more absenteeism, 49% more accidents and 60% more errors and defects.  It sounds like a happy workplace could really affect the bottom line of your business!

Workers who enjoy their job:

  • put more energy into their work and work with more passion;
  • care about the business they work for and find out more about the aims of the company;
  • are better at their jobs
  • are more likely to be loyal and stay with the company (saving time and money eaten up by high staff turnover)
  • are healthier (work-related mental disorders cost a lot in paid sick days).
  • are more supportive of the company and other employees

What do we mean by a playful business?

Playfulness isn’t necessarily about putting bean bags and lego in the corner, but it could be about “gamifying” mundane work, it could be about encouraging and developing playful imaginative development sessions for all workers to allow and encourage imagination and inspiration.

“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.” Roald Dahl

Play is not the opposite of work – that’s leisure.  Play is part of work.  Not having play in your workplace makes your business less flexible, less innovative, less able to develop or enhance inspiration and passion.  A happy workplace makes for a productive, creative business.

Creative thinking

 

Think about the sounds that you love most.  The sound of laughter is probably high on the list, especially the sound of a child giggling. 

Somehow, as we grow up, we forget how to play.  It starts at school.  There’s a certain pressure to be serious, to buckle down and get the work done, to pass tests.  Then, you become aware that life can actually be quite hard.  You may have to work in a job you don’t like, you have the pressure of keeping a roof over your heads, food on the table and taking care of a family.  Everything becomes pretty serious.

I had a dawning realisation that life doesn’t have to be this way.  That recapturing playfulness could make life better.  For example, studies have shown that being playful speeds up learning, increases productivity and job satisfaction and helps build relationships.  I made a decision that I would try to bring joy back into life.  I started looking into “How to be Playful” and “The benefits of play” and discovered that this is a vast area, backed by studies and research, by psychology and sociology.  I’m only beginning to scrape the surface.  I wanted to share the adventure on my journey towards playfulness… and that’s what The Playful Way is all about.  I’m going to learn as much as I can about play and I’m going to attempt to apply principles of playfulness to my life and share them with parents, educators and business bosses as I go.

Welcome to The Playful Way.

Principles of The Playful Way

To begin with, before getting into the research, here are a few key principles of play:

  1. Playfulness doesn’t mean that you are frivolous or treat life’s problems as insignificant – it means that you take them seriously but look for fun in the ways we deal with them.
  2. Playfulness doesn’t mean that you are silly or annoying (though for those who have lost playfulness it can seem that way… persevere, they will see the light). Playfulness means that you find fun in tasks which might otherwise be boring – play a word game while queueing, do some creative people watching while waiting for the bus etc.  It means that you look on the bright side and try to bring joy and lift the spirits of yourself and those around you.  Take time to explore the world and find the joy in it.
  3. Play is not simply the absence of work. Play and leisure are different things.
  4. It’s important to remember that play should never be hurtful. As I tell my children – “if it isn’t fun for everybody involved then it isn’t playing.”  So jokes at the expense of others’ feelings are not appropriate.  Playfulness is about laughing, making others laugh and unleashing creativity.
  5. Play is about creativity and whimsy.

I’d like to invite you to join me on my journey to The Playful Way.  To invite play back into your life. 

I’m a qualified teacher and experienced writer and adult trainer and I’ll be offering courses in parenting and teaching playfully.  I’d love you to sign up here to receive regular updates so you don’t miss out.