The Reclaiming Play Spaces programme facilitated by PlayBoard NI and funded by Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council ran from October 2020 to February 2021. Play sessions were delivered in five areas of Antrim and Newtownabbey and aimed to bring free, unstructured play opportunities to children, parents and staff within their communities. Due to Covid-19 restrictions play sessions took place outdoors and PlayBoard staff followed a strict Covid-19 risk assessment and cleaning guidelines.
PlayBoard’s usual play sessions were adapted to reflect current restrictions and government guidelines. PlayBoard created a Covid-19 risk assessment which included the following measures:
- Encourage outdoor play in all weathers. In winter months in previous years there has been an indoor option at settings if weather has been too severe to take part in outside. However, following PlayBoard’s strict Covid-19 risk assessment and government guidelines play sessions had to take part outside. Generally, this worked well and PlayBoard staff carried out the session in all weathers, however, some sessions were cancelled by settings due to the weather.
- Resources were limited due to Covid-19 restrictions and they were alternated between settings. This worked well when delivering sessions as both Playworkers had their own sets of resources and used them in different settings to avoid cross contaminating the resources.
- PlayBoard staff followed strict cleaning guidelines of all resources before and after sessions to manage infection prevention and control of the coronavirus.
The outdoor sessions took place at Sleepy Hollow Afterschool Club at Crumlin Integrated Primary School, St Joseph’s Nursery, Greendale Day Nursery, Ballycraigy Community Centre and Sleepy Hollow at St Mary’s on the Hill Primary school. Parents took part in sessions at St Joseph’s Nursery and Ballycraigy Community Centre. The sessions ran once a week to encourage children’s growth and development through play as well as encouraging parents to get involved in their children’s play.
The Session Plans
The session plans were mainly free and unstructured play sessions for children to engage in child-led activities with resources provided by PlayBoard NI. The Reclaiming Play Spaces programme does, however, incorporate a cross-community element and some activities are focused on supporting children’s resilience and supporting positive well-being for the children involved. Some activities surrounding this element of the programme included spot the difference sheets, stories and crafts about inclusion and much more.
The final session at each setting was a celebratory and evaluation session. The plan for these sessions included bringing the fire pit to toast marshmallows, play some parachute games and gather evaluations from parents and staff as well as children in the form of a graffiti wall.
Sleepy Hollow Sessions
Article 31 of the UNCRC states “Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities”. Research shows that play allows children to use their creativity; benefitting their imagination, physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. Play is important to healthy brain development. The outdoor play sessions were designed with these important benefits for children in mind. They took place every Thursday for six consecutive weeks with the exception of the Halloween holidays. Some sessions were cold and windy but the weather was always dry which made it easier to run the outdoor sessions.
Activities at Sleepy Hollow Crumlin
With Covid-19 restrictions resources were more limited than in previous sessions and were cleaned before and after every session and were alternated between settings.
• arts and crafts
• loose parts
• small and large building blocks
• den building
The sessions maintained good participation throughout the programme in Sleepy Hollow, with numbers split between the two bubbles involved at the setting. Resources were adapted to ensure an adequate amount to split between the groups thus eliminating the chance of cross contamination.
• “Everything that was brought the children enjoyed playing with. Our groups where split into two pods and the girls had brought equal stuff so the children in both pods could play with the same stuff.”
• “The girls worked well with the conditions we are in. We have two pods and they accommodated this.”
• “Yes, met expectations, children kept asking when are they coming each week.”
• “They were very fun, welcoming and had lots of invitations for play.”
• “Plenty of invitations of play. Children couldn’t wait for the girls to arrive each week.”
Reflection, Learning and Recommendations
The success of the Sleepy Hollow sessions can be used as an example of how face to face delivery can take place safely under current Covid-19 restrictions (March 2021). Thus, following the example of the Sleepy Hollow play sessions, it is important that PlayBoard can agree with any prospective settings, that an outdoor space is required to carry out play sessions, to ensure the safety of the individuals involved in future play sessions, as well as following current Covid-19 guidelines.
PlayBoard will continue to work alongside the setting in preparation for any play sessions, to accommodate the needs of the setting amidst Covid-19 restrictions, i.e. adapting the sessions to accommodate multiple ‘bubbles’ of children that cannot mix or use the same equipment.
PlayBoard will continue to review and update, where necessary, the Covid-19 risk assessment and ensure that the sanitising of equipment between sessions is carried out to the highest standard.
Although the programme delivered in Sleepy Hollow did not follow the usual play session, due to restrictions on resources with sessions taking place outside regardless of the weather, the setting has reported that they will incorporate parts of the sessions into their own daily programmes going forward. These include bringing the arts and crafts table outside, bringing materials outside to make dens, and playing with more loose parts outside.
To conclude, despite Covid-19 restrictions, PlayBoard staff were successfully able to carry out face to face delivery with children. The aim of the programme to promote diversity, inclusion and acceptance of difference in the community, was met through play sessions which included free play and invited play for those involved. This programme is a positive example of how face to face delivery with children and young people can be adapted to ensure that fun, yet safe play sessions can continue to be carried out amidst the current health crisis.