Sprinkle liberally and mix up!

Written by: Sue Smith, Playworker and Trainer, Play Resource Co./PACT Birmingham, UK

Take a ranch-style hotel, complete with real horses (and a 5m high metal Unicorn….) on the outskirts of a small town in Slovakia; add 30 assorted adults; sprinkle liberally with at least 6 European languages; mix up in a ballroom; combine with a single goal of improving Children’s Access to Play in School and what have you got? A recipe for an amazing week of debating new ideas, sharing experience, contextualising theory and planning for practice.

Play has been described as the international language of children. A shared passion for supporting play is definitely a catalyst for international co-operation amongst adults. It’s hard to imagine any other gathering of professionals working so hard; being so open to challenge; so welcoming of diverse perspectives – and having such a good time in the process!

Of course, we weren’t there to play – this was serious preparation for trainers to deliver the 30hr CAPS programme designed to ‘improve the quality of play and therefore the quality of [the] school system in each partner country’ (1) – but the intrinsic qualities of play: exploration; creativity; risk-taking; self-realisation; empathy; flexibility; problem solving and perseverance; were all very much in evidence.

Why does any of this matter? Why has so much time, energy and expertise been put into this project? Because play matters. For children, play isn’t an optional extra, it is fundamental to the quality of childhood (2); Changes in contemporary life that reduce children’s opportunities to just play out, make it a matter for schools….[and]…. in schools that have made deliberate changes to support play, staff, children, families and other stakeholders all say how much better school life is for everyone (3).

Let’s get this show on the road!

1. CAPS – National Adaptation Plan – UK pg. 3

2. UNCRC (2013) General Comment 17: The right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts (Article 31)

3. Children’s Access to Play in Schools. Quality Criteria for a play friendly school pg. 11.

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