So here we are, many weeks into Covid-19. For many of us – our lives have been turned upside down. Some of us have been living in isolation, unable to carry out the simplest things like leaving our homes, going for a walk or going to work. For others we’ve been unable to visit friends or loved ones, and had to endure the queues and social distancing rules when out shopping.

I am one of the lucky ones and have been able to adapt to working from home, I have a new routine and If I’m honest I must admit I’m not missing the daily hour and a half commute to and from the office.

As a staff team we at PlayBoard have been thinking a lot (more) about play. We’ve been sharing play ideas on social media and thinking about our own play memories. Many of us have been remembering the simplicity of play and the freedoms that we had as children to explore our indoor and outdoor worlds. We used play as a ‘tool’ for learning about the world around us and it was through play that we navigated the journey into adolescence and adulthood.

I often wonder, how I as a child would have coped with Covid-19. Would my play memories have changed? I still would have been able to play hopscotch and two balls or ridden my triumph 20 bike through the empty streets and beyond. I still could have built dens in the garden or played schools with my dollies on the stairs with my sister.

I wonder too about what I would have made of the restrictions in place. I would be missing school – that’s for sure – I loved school and I’d be missing my friends. I think for me that would have been the hardest part. I remember vividly being off school for almost three weeks with mumps. I hated the thoughts of my friends playing without me, of life continuing on as normal for them and of the fear of them forgetting me! Of course they wouldn’t, but as a child that fear was very real.

My Mum found me one-day sobbing in my bedroom – I had been playing schools with my dolls and unknown to me then, I was acting out the situation I was going through. Play was allowing me to act out the emotions I was feeling; the sadness and worry and fear that I was being left behind. So, whilst play is often described as fun and frivolous it can also be very, very serious.

I grew up in ‘the troubles’ but as a child my parents shielded me from quite a lot of what was going on. I’m guessing that’s what parents are doing now with Covid-19 – shielding their children from the hard news stories about death and sickness, all a very sad reality of this pandemic. But what we sometimes don’t realise is that children are often much more aware and astute than we give them credit for. I’m hearing stories of children playing happily one minute and crying the next afraid that a loved one will die from the virus or that they will get sick themselves.

Play will undoubtedly be helping children work through a range of emotions at this strange and worrying time. Covid-19 interrupted their lives, many left school suddenly, missed out on school trips and concerts, lost family members or watched others suffering. They may be feeling overwhelmed, vulnerable and anxious and opportunities to PLAY are more important than ever. Just like my Mum did when I had the mumps – she listened and reassured me and allowed me space to work through my feelings in a fun and safe way.

We’ve been speaking with children across Northern Ireland and what they are asking for when they return to school is more playtime, more time to reacquaint with their friends and time to get to know the new school layout due to social distancing. Play and friendships is very much at the forefront of their minds.

So as we come out of lockdown and try to settle into a new ‘normal’ let’s have a focus on play … play is not only valuable for children but is absolutely necessary. My reflections end well, with lots of rest and care my mumps got better and I returned to school to my friends. Of course they hadn’t forgotten me – they welcomed me with open arms, we laughed and played and I soon forgot my fears – with the right environment, time, space and permission to play children can work through stresses, fears and anxieties. Let them play.

Angela Stallard
Service Delivery & Development Manager