During the process of completing Wrexham’s first play sufficiency assessment the council’s Play Development Team carried out research with over 160 children in primary schools.
When discussing their time spent in adult run institutions or clubs (for example schools, childcare and sport sessions), children adopted a traffic light system to help explain their subjective experience of playing:
- Red – adults were overly constraining and not as supportive of their desire to play.
- Amber – adults tended to promote particular forms of playing, meaning that children could play in some, if not all, the ways they wanted.
- Green – children perceived themselves to be completely free from adult obligation and considered it most conducive to their ability to play.
This was characterised by one young boy who said: ‘You can never have enough Green Time’.
The Green Time project is a long term policy development programme for schools and out of school childcare settings, delivered by Wrexham Council’s Play Development Team. The project was introduced specifically in response to Priority 8 of Wrexham’s first Play Sufficiency Assessment, which identifies the need to ‘improve children’s subjective experience of time and space’.
The aim is to improve children’s and adult’s subjective experience of playing within these settings by developing a child-centred play policy and promoting a more considered approach to supporting and facilitating children’s play. The actual programme consists of a series of mentoring sessions delivered over a 12 month period which includes elements of training around contemporary play theories, planning for play, risk management and reflective practice.
Initially the project was funded by Wrexham Council’s Childcare Team (part of the Family Information Service) and was piloted with several out of school clubs. The success of the pilot ensured that the project, which is about to welcome its third cohort, has continued to be funded in this way. After receiving additional funding from Welsh Government the project expanded to schools. Initially, the school and out of school programmes were delivered separately, however the plan for this forthcoming year is to merge them to promote a more coherent approach between the two types of settings.
To promote the project and to identify settings that would potentially benefit, we have worked closely with both the Childcare Team and the Wrexham Council’s Healthy Schools unit. To date we have mentored seven out-of-school clubs and four schools. In addition, two Childcare Development Officers have attended the mentoring sessions over the past 12 months. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive:
‘We are really enjoying the Green Time course, we find it extremely interesting and beneficial to our workplace.’ (Playworkers, out-of-school club)
‘It will enable me to support playworkers in the out of school clubs.’ (Childcare Development Officer)
‘Really enjoyed (the course). Very informative and experienced playworker delivering it. Good group where we have been able to speak openly.’ (Out of school club manager)
The programme has encouraged participants to adopt a different approach to the creation of spaces in which children play. Subsequently, examples of environmental changes have been identified. Schools have also received support in enhancing the physical environment by incorporating the use of loose parts (junk materials).
To ensure the schools had somewhere to store the loose parts they were provided with three large storage containers. The boxes were fitted with gas struts for safety purposes and could be locked and secured to the ground if the school deemed it necessary to do so. The Play Development Team delivered risk management training and guidance to aid schools in the introduction of the loose parts. Ultimately it was the school’s responsibility to source and maintain the loose parts. Once schools felt confident enough to use these resources at playtimes they were introduced to positive affect.
Despite the obvious changes to the play environment, the introduction of loose parts was not the most crucial element to improving the conditions for play in schools and out of school clubs. Instead it was primarily the development of a play policy that brought about the change in attitude and practice of staff to allow more play opportunities (including the use of loose parts) to happen.
‘Through underpinning play (theory) we have been able to create our own play policy which we are keen to implement with immediate effect … prior to the course we would’ve been reluctant to let the children play outdoors in all weathers, however, we now understand the importance of children experiencing all weather types and conditions.’ (Playworkers)
‘The project has changed my professional practice and personal attitude to playtimes. Understanding how and why children choose to play the way they do has reflected on my playtime management, expectations and how I interact with the ‘playing child’. We all seem happier!’ (Teacher)
Attitudinal changes like the ones described in the comments above, have had a significant impact on the play opportunities and affordances children in these settings are able to actualise.
The project works with the children to establish a baseline in schools, meeting with a year five class who will be in year six by the end of the project. Children add positive and negative comments about playtime to a graffiti wall. They also complete word clouds (a grid with a series of positive and negative words to describe playtime, up to ten words can be circled) and a child friendly questionnaire. A preliminary analysis of this information is shared with teachers. When the project has been established for 12 months, the same exercises will be repeated and the results will be compared.
Despite there being many positives since the inception of Green Time project, there have also been many challenges and it has been just as much of learning process for the Play Development Team as it has for the participants.
As the project is essentially about developing a culture of permissiveness in schools and out of school clubs, the development of a play policy (that enables this to happen) is crucial. The policy however is significantly less effective if representatives who attend the mentoring sessions are not empowered to influence changes back in their settings.
Schools are notoriously busy and because of pressures on time, other work commitments often take precedence with an inconsistency in attendance at mentoring sessions being indicative of this.
This project works best where representatives are in a position of seniority, with the trust and backing of the organisation to lead on developments. Moreover, where this individual is motivated and enthusiastic about the initiative, positive results are more likely to follow. For example, one teacher devoted a lot of time and effort to the project which not only had a profound impact on her practice (as seen in the comment above) but also on school playtimes as a whole. Children are now benefiting from a more relaxed approach from adults as well as the introduction of loose parts. In addition, this school used much of the evidence generated from the Green Time Project to complete their Healthy Schools award.