CAPS UK team member Wendy Russell recently spent three weeks in New Zealand Aotearoa, talking with territorial authority officers, national government officers and NGO staff about developments in children’s play opportunities. As a part of this work, she gave five presentations about the CAPS project’s work on Play-friendly Schools. She talks here about her experience.
What a privilege it was to be able to speak to so many different people in New Zealand about their work to support children’s right to play across the country. I was hosted by Sport New Zealand and Recreation Aotearoa, and spent the first part of my trip visiting five different regions to speak to staff from the local authority and from Sport New Zealand, and then at the end I gave a presentation to a symposium in Auckland and a keynote speech at Recreation Aotearoa’s annual Green Pavlova conference, also in Auckland. There is a sense of excitement, enthusiasm and optimism across the country, and Scott Mackenzie, Sport New Zealand’s Play Consultant, has some big and exciting plans for developing regionally-based systems for play development working with Regional Sport Teams and local government officers.
Some areas are very interested in working to improve children’s opportunities to play in schools and are already doing some fascinating work in this area. It was interesting to see how many of the issues that we raise in our Quality Criteria, trainer’s guide and handbook for Play-friendly Schools are also issues in New Zealand: the pressures of academic learning; having sufficient time, space and permission for playing, the importance of risk in children’s play and of course the wonderful use of loose parts in school playgrounds.
I gave five presentations on our work on Play-friendly Schools to a total of 66 people in Wellington, Gisborne, Hamilton and Christchurch. Four of these were to people working on the ground and the fifth was to a more national, policy-focused audience, with people from national government departments.
This photo shows the good people of Hamilton drawing maps of their childhood play spaces. You can see from the photo they were immersed in these memories and in their relationship to their neighbourhoods. Part of the process of becoming a Play-friendly School involves looking at how space works to support or constrain play, and also at how different children’s relationships are with space from ours as adults. People talked of specific trees and streams, of scary playgrounds where undesirables congregated, of their intimate knowledge of what their neighbourhoods afforded for playing. This forms an excellent basis for mapping school spaces for play and developing an understanding of how these spaces work for children.
I returned to the UK with renewed enthusiasm for the project, heartened to see how the issue of children’s play in schools is being addressed on the other side of the world.