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The importance of Play

Kids drawing on the black tarmac ground with brightly coloured chalks

By Charlie Marsh, Senior Play Ranger, Play Gloucestershire

Play Gloucestershire are proud to be part of the ‘Summer of Play’ campaign. We’ve signed up because we understand that what children need most this summer is the space, time and freedom to play as the pandemic restrictions are eased.

For 15 months, we have been navigating the Covid-19 storm, so that we could continue to support the children and families who needed us most, whilst fighting to survive as a charity. Being unable to deliver park based open access play sessions in communities across the county was traumatic for our beneficiaries, staff and volunteers. Our Play Rangers discovered that playing on a daily basis as part of their job was fundamental to their own wellbeing, as well as that of the children and families we serve.

During lockdown, we found new ways of connecting with young people, becoming ‘Virtual Play Rangers’, sharing online content with low-cost play activities and mental health boosts. We also wanted to do something practical and, being mindful of digital exclusion, our ‘Bags for Play’ campaign was born. Each bag was a mini version of the kit we would usually take to communities in our fleet of vans – equipment that could lead to play at home, in the garden or on a balcony.

Thanks to the flexibility of our existing funders and our innovative approach to play, we were able to develop a new approach we called ‘Stepping Out’ and the children called ‘Walk, Talk, Play’. It involves our Play Rangers meeting up with children outside their home and going on a playful, socially distanced walk to their local parks and green spaces. This child-led time with trusted adults proved invaluable for their self-esteem, confidence and overall mood.

For many children, ongoing restrictions on their everyday freedoms has been debilitating, with some still unable to return to school due to anxiety caused by the pandemic. We have been providing outdoor therapeutic playwork to individuals and small groups in school and external settings and have witnessed children playing ‘Corona tag’ which perfectly illustrates how play is needed to help them make sense of the past year and to work through the emotions involved.

For over a year, children across the UK have been forced to spend time indoors, inactive, and isolated from friends. This has inevitably taken its toll on their mental health, often leading to feelings of loneliness, low mood, anxiety and reduced physical activity.  The solution for this has to be play, play and more play! The benefits of play for children’s development, as well as their physical and mental health are wide ranging. Play is how children learn about, explore and make sense of the world around them.

Educators and playworkers alike are now calling for a Summer of Play in recognition of the huge toll the pandemic has had on children. The expected easing of restrictions on July 19th means that we are likely to finally return to communities we have missed so much to provide our exciting blend of free, active and creative outdoor play. Play Gloucestershire are so looking forward to a much-needed summer of fun, friends and restoring children’s freedom to play!

2 teen-age children play together on a large netted swing, with a play park visible behind them

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