How many of us as children, wished to have an endless summer where we didn’t have to go to school and we could play all day in the sunshine?

I’m “just” old enough to remember 1976 when we enjoyed long, hot summer days which brought an eventual drought because the weather had been so dry. We left our homes in the morning to go on our adventures and didn’t return until the street lights came on!

COVID-19 has afforded our children an extended break from school with as yet, no end in sight. The weather has been perfect but the freedom to roam has been removed as we’ve all been told to stay home and stay safe.

The steps we’ve had to take in isolating ourselves and our families to avoid contracting or spreading this dreaded virus has challenged all of us. We’ve had to dig deep at times and reach into reserves of resilience we never knew we had.

Many workers have been furloughed, some made redundant and lots of us are working from home. We’re battling through Wi-Fi problems, dogs barking, babies crying, and concerns for the future. The stress builds. Family squabbles and getting on each other’s nerves can be tough at the best of times never mind in the middle of a global pandemic!

The good weather has definitely made this situation more bearable but hail, rain or snow, one thing that will always be there to help our children handle the difficulties is PLAY!

A lot of people are just now discovering the intrinsic value of play in their children’s lives. Toy boxes across the country are being emptied as every car, doll, football and crayon you’ve ever bought is presented to keep your kids from the dread of boredom. Did you know that children will find a way to play even in the most ordinary environments and during the most extraordinary of circumstances? Play really is the constant companion of childhood!

Regardless of our concerns about Coronavirus, our future employment worries or our ability to pay the bills, our children will still play. Their need to play isn’t reliant upon the world being a safe and pandemic free place. However, the more we as parents, teachers, policy makers and decision takers recognise the value of play in a child’s life, the greater the opportunity we have to enrich and expand their play experiences.

Being able to provide opportunities for play within our isolated homes has been the saving grace for parents and grandparents. Our patience is still tried and we have reached the end of our tether more than once however; through something as simple as play, we’ve been able to shield our kids from this outbreak and often, joining them in their activities has allowed us a distraction from the worries of current events.

I’ve found myself wondering what good can come out of the experiences of the last seven or eight weeks (and however many follow). Is there any hidden treasure buried amongst the concerns of days which pass and blend into weeks? In my own family, I’ve observed our young parents able to enjoy uninterrupted time with their children. They are able to see the wider scope of those developing personalities, watch as various talents emerge and although exhausting, their days have revolved around PLAY!  I’m sure many of you are experiencing the same things.

Whilst we want to leave behind latex gloves, excessive use of hand sanitizer and cabin fever, PLAY is a keeper! Here in PlayBoard, our hope would be that the current appreciation for good play opportunities for our children continues and indeed, grows. COVID-19 has helped people to rethink their opinions on play. We don’t want to lose that lesson; let’s use it to future proof the play experience for kids!

In valuing play, I hope that we also value the Playwork staff who normally provide fantastic play opportunities for our children while we are at work. I’m willing to guess that we’ve all discovered a newfound appreciation for the incredible job they do.

Sometime, hopefully in the next few weeks, restrictions will be eased and we will be able to return to the lives we were living before ‘Rona’ showed up. As that day gets closer, we can begin again to make plans for the future. Let’s resolve to keep playing with our children as part of those plans. When our children are happy, aren’t we happier? Children have a right to play; it’s enshrined in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). No, not even COVID-19 can take that away!

Keep safe but keep playing!

Frances Walsh
Regional Co-ordinator for School Age Childcare