Covid-19 restrictions impacting children’s play

PlayBoard NI, Stranmillis University College and the Controlled Schools’ Support Council recently embarked on a collaborative research project to examine the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the quality of play within early years classrooms, as well as the impact on children’s engagement, social interaction and emotional well-being.

The research focused on Nursery and Foundation stage (Years 1 and 2 of primary schooling), with the online survey completed by 291 teachers between January and March 2021.

Over half of respondents (58.6%) felt that restrictions impacted negatively on children in terms of their social skills, their levels of independence, their ability to stay on task and overall enhanced anxiety. However, a sizeable minority (41.4%) indicated that children were more independent in terms of self-care routines, more settled in class, happier and more relaxed, and displayed increased levels of resilience and coping skills.

Over two thirds of teachers felt restrictions, alongside intense cleaning regimes, had impacted negatively on the quality of play, resulting in more sterile play and learning spaces.

Speaking ahead of the report launch, Jacqueline O’Loughlin, PlayBoard Chief Executive said: “As with so many areas of society, Covid-19 brought unprecedented challenges to early years education. Teachers at Nursery and Foundation stages were presented with the unenviable task of managing the risks posed by the pandemic while still ensuring a high-quality playful learning experience for children in practice.”

Jacqueline continued: “We are delighted to have been able to work in partnership with Stranmillis University College and the Controlled Schools’ Support Council in order to identify the impact of Covid-19 on play in the early years, and to establish a number of key recommendations for government as we seek to move back to normality.”

The survey highlighted the high level of creativity, improvisation and dedication invested on the part of early years teachers to ensure that young children have, in the main, continued to enjoy a stimulating, playful and nurturing learning experience, despite the many challenges. Almost two thirds of respondents (65.7%) reported making greater use of the outdoors.

Dr Glenda Walsh, Head of Early Years Education at Stranmillis University College, said: “Although this study has been quite small in scale, it has generated some significant findings and recommendations about the importance of play both indoors and out for young children’s learning and development. The last year has certainly shown us that children need to play more than ever.”

Tracey Woods from the Controlled Schools’ Support Council said: “We are delighted to have contributed to this work which highlights the significant work of schools in facilitating playful learning opportunities that positively impact on children’s educational outcomes and their emotional health and well-being”.

Key recommendations contained within the report are aimed at enhancing the capacity of settings to continue to provide a high-quality playful learning experience in practice. These include the following:

Action 1: Need for greater value to be assigned to play in the home and support parents to develop and extend play within the home environment.
Action 2: Need for further guidance on managing play during the pandemic.
Action 3: Need to prioritise outdoor play and outdoor learning in the school environment post pandemic.
Action 4: Need for professional development in the early years.
Action 5: Need for further research into the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on children’s holistic learning and development.
Action 6: Need to prioritise play more fully in practice across Northern Ireland schools and early years settings post pandemic.

Read Play in Practice during the Pandemic – Nursery and Foundation Stage report here

  • Play in Practice during the Pandemic

    Play in Practice during the Pandemic

    PlayBoard NI, Stranmillis University College and the Controlled Schools’ Support Council recently embarked on a collaborative research project to examine the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the quality of play within early years classrooms, as well as the impact on children’s engagement, social interaction and emotional well-being.
    pdf (2.90 MB)



Summer of play delivery opportunity in partnership with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Outdoor learning and play facilitator (ranger)

Notes of interest (including proposed cost) by Friday 11th June to be submitted FAO Suzanne Hermiston via
Anticipated start date – 21st June 2021


Since March 2020, Scotland (along with other nations of the world) has suffered a global pandemic. Some of those who have felt the impact most greatly are young people – unable to meet with their friends socially or at school, they were instead limited to staying and learning at home, separated from so many social and learning opportunities. As a result, their mental health has suffered and their childhood has been changed forever. The Scottish Government has acknowledged the need to return to simpler times for children, with an initiative entitled ‘Summer of Play’ and associated funding. This acknowledgement brings hope for future generations, as does one of the positives to come out of lockdown – a reconnection with nature.

With the help of government funding, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh hopes to play its part in helping, by introducing its own green recovery programme for children.


The ‘pop up’ garden will reach families in both rural and urban areas through taking part in outdoor play and through supporting online materials. This will allow parents and children to relearn the value of play whilst increasing their interest in nature and subsequently encouraging them to take action against climate change and biodiversity loss.

The mobile event will run over the Scottish school summer holidays (from end of June to mid- August), ‘popping up’ in different locations – linked to the botanic gardens in Edinburgh and their regional gardens at Logan (Galloway), Benmore (Argyll and Bute) and Dawyck (Borders). Regionally sessions could be offered in nearby towns and onsite at the garden, whilst in Edinburgh delivery may be limited to the garden due to the scarcity of other suitable outdoor venues during the festival period).

Sessions will be aimed at children aged 3 – 8 years old, and you will be able to create and mould the content and approach in line with RBGE guidelines and mission statement. We would welcome further discussions with interested parties – please contact (FAO Suzanne Hermiston)

Alongside the physical events taking place, online materials will be available to help parents work with their children to explore the world around them. For example, short films or activity guides will be produced encouraging mini adventures in their local area which aim to open up their senses and stimulate both their imagination and love of nature. These resources will help parents and children to break down stereotypes around what can and can’t be touched, deal with issues of ‘getting dirty’ and increase parental confidence in playing outdoors. They should also encourage a child led approach to play and may include how to use natural materials in physical making sessions at the roadshow (i.e., twigs, leaves, stones etc) or could be story based (depending on the existing skillset and interests of the practitioner).

At the end of the summer holidays (at the beginning of the new school year) work will be undertaken with primary schools to deliver some elements of nature play with teachers. This may involve a virtual teacher CPD session and the inclusion of online materials to help maintain interest amongst young people.

Responsible to: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Education Team
Hours: 37.5 hours per week (including overnight stays)

Sessions will run during Scottish school summer holidays (from end of June to mid- August). We anticipate that contact time will be approximately 2 days per week with the remainder of the time being spent in planning, development, content creation and evaluation. Sessional Rangers would be expected to keep the RBGE education contact informed of progress.

Salary: Up to £12,000 (+expenses)
Base Location: Commutable to Edinburgh but with travel to all regional gardens. Overnight stays are required where all costs will be covered by the project (travel, accommodation, and subsistence).

Project Outcomes

The Ranger Project works towards achieving the following outcomes:

The proposed title for the project is “Down at the bottom of the garden…” with an accompanying strapline of Play. Plant. Protect. The main aims of the programme are:

  • To encourage children and parents to engage in nature play irrespective of the outdoor space available to them
  • To provide easily accessible resources for parents and teachers to help encourage more nature play amongst children
  • To offer ideas for free activities which children can complete at home
  • To embed a message of the importance of respecting nature when playing and subsequently encourage positive behaviour change towards the climate emergency and biodiversity loss amongst Scotland’s children
  • To increase the time spent playing
  • To improve children’s mental and physical health during the global pandemic recovery period
Project Delivery Implementation
  1. Create, plan and deliver free play sessions in pre-identified project areas.
  2. Assist with sourcing and offering appropriate play resources (mainly loose parts, low cost, natural and recycled play items) to respond to the children’s play within allocated budget.
  3. Work with schools and local community organisations to effectively communicate with children, young people, parents, carers and other community members on the development of the project.
Evaluation and forward planning
  1. Gather evidence and documentation on an ongoing basis to assess success of the project using project outcomes and indicators.
  2. Assist in identifying key learning from the project to support further development and to aid future funding applications.
  3. Assist in producing final reports for funders and partners.
  4. Identify and obtain resources to support the effective delivery of the project.
  5. Engage with regional gardens to coordinate delivery and connect with local communities
Ranger – Key Responsibilities
  • Create, plan and facilitate community-based outdoor play sessions for children and young people in all weathers. These may include different types of play, such as loose parts play, adventurous play, natural /outdoor arts & crafts, storytelling, games and messy play. Supporting materials which can be shared digitally afterwards are also required to be provided by the Ranger.
  • Ensure records and budget are kept up to date (for example, numbers attending, session evaluations, spend to date etc).
  • Be guided by an ethos which values and respects children and young people’s ideas and suggestions.
  • Be guided by the mission and values of RBGE.
  • Use a risk benefit assessment (RBA) and dynamic risk assessment approach when planning for and supporting children and young people’s play.
  • Ensure that all policies and procedures are adhered to (for example, child protection, data protection, health and safety).
  • Assess and monitor the community spaces used when operating play sessions and, if appropriate, remove and/or report any items of concern.
  • Model positive behaviour and support children and young people to do the same.
  • Deal with any challenging behaviour in a sensitive and fair manner and in accordance with policies and procedures.
  • Liaise with parents, carers, professionals and partnership agencies to develop positive working relationships.
  • Monitor and evaluate the project, using methods which are fun, engaging and suited to the children and young people taking part.
  • Disseminate key findings of projects through appropriate channels.
Additional Responsibilities and Opportunities
  • Attend RBGE update meetings (roughly every 2 weeks) and complete orientation visits to each of the regional gardens to ensure familiarisation with regional specific processes and procedures (including biosecurity).
  • Undertake training, either required (for example, first aid) or which might be relevant to the role.
  • Follow any other instructions and perform duties that have been reasonably requested.

Support will be provided from across RBGE (regionally and from within the education team) when required.

Those meeting the key criteria may be invited to an informal interview during the week of 14th June.



Glasgow chosen as host city for 2023 International Play Association World Congress

The International Play Association (IPA) has chosen Glasgow as the location of its 2023 World Congress. The event, which will be held at Glasgow Caledonian University, will attract up to 700 delegates from over 50 countries around the world, worth over £1m to the city’s economy. Former hosts of this prestigious congress include Calgary and Istanbul.

The IPA aims to protect, preserve and promote children’s right to play as a fundamental human right. The meeting will bring delegates from all professions concerned with the wellbeing of children together in Glasgow to exchange ideas and inspire action.

Councillor David McDonald, Chair of Glasgow Life and Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council, said: “May I congratulate the successful bid team in their efforts to attract the International Play Association Word Congress to our city in 2023. IPA’s mission resonates with our vision for the young people of our city; to respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life. The pandemic has been tough for our young people, so we salute the excellent work of IPA Scotland and the wider bid team in involving Glasgow in the inspiring work of the association in promoting the child’s right to play.”

Glasgow has a long-standing commitment to play and launched its own play strategy in 2011. Investing in the opportunity for children to play and develop through that play is crucial in IPA Scotland’s drive to change and improve life for all.

Margaret Westwood, Chair of the International Play Association Scotland commented: “IPA Scotland and our amazing conference partners are honoured and delighted to be bringing the 22nd IPA Triennial World Conference to Glasgow in 2023 where we will be celebrating Play: Rights & Possibilities. The right to play is so important for all children globally, and we will be sharing Scotland’s experience and learning from others from all over the world. IPA Scotland are indebted to Glasgow Convention Bureau for their invaluable support in planning our bid for this conference, which promises to be innovative, green, inclusive and famously friendly!”

The work of the IPA has not stopped during the pandemic, with the Access to Play in Crisis work having world-wide recognition. The 2023 world congress will be an opportunity to reflect on what has been learned and what can still be learned as a result of Covid-19.

Clare Haughey, Scottish Minister for Children and Young People said: “I am pleased that Scotland will be hosting the 2023 IPA conference in Glasgow. We want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up and providing play opportunities to all children and families is vital to this. The Scottish Government’s recent £60 million commitment to renew play parks in Scotland is just one example of our support for play, and we look forward to sharing our passion for play with the rest of the world.”

Professor John McKendrick, Professor in Social Justice, Glasgow Caledonian University added: “Glasgow is a city of innovation. It has been a world leader in maritime commerce and engineering. When we think of ‘Clydebuilt’, we think of quality. The new Glasgow City Region Deal is set to fashion a new future for work in the city and surrounding area. But successful cities are more than prosperous economies, they need to meet all the needs of citizens. They need to allow children to flourish through play. As the ‘University for the common good’, Glasgow Caledonian University is proud to host this international conference, bringing together the latest local, national and global thinking on how to facilitate play and enrich the lives of children, families, communities and cities.”



Health, the Outdoors and Safety

Professor David Ball has published a paper on the salutogenic model of health which seeks to find out ‘what makes people healthy’ as opposed to the more familiar ‘what makes people sick (or injures them).’

This article draws on long-term qualitative policy research and describes examples of the on-going tensions in the context of the public enjoyment of the outdoors.

Full article here



New joint-agency publication: Why society needs nature

This newly published report from a collaboration between the Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot, Natural England and Forest Research collates the findings of their research investigating how people visited nature and their experiences of it during the Covid-19 restrictions of 2020. It highlights data across several important themes: the number and frequency of outdoor visits; reasons for not visiting and barriers; places visited and activities undertaken; benefits of nature and the outdoors; issues and problems caused by visits to the outdoors.



Return to roots: How the pandemic shaped outdoor play

Children had been spending less and less time outdoors before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

While coronavirus caused the closures of schools and indoor childcare across Scotland, parents, carers and playmakers were forced to come up with alternatives – in the great outdoors.

A report by national charity Play Scotland explains how fundamental play is for children’s emotional and physical wellbeing. For children, play is not only exercise, it is also how they process their emotions, including their fears, and has been shown to help children deal with diversity.

A consultation undertaken by Play Scotland in early 2021 found children were trying to express feelings about freedom.

Marguerite Hunter Blair, CEO of Play Scotland, said: “Children had never understood what that concept meant before, but they understood it when it was denied.”

Following the initial lockdown, evidence was presented to the government showing that the risks of transmitting the virus among children under 12 years old was very low.

It was decided they did not need to follow the same rules as older children or adults, meaning they did not count towards the number of people who could meet up or have to obey social distancing.

This, Play Scotland said, was a lifeline that prevented the most harmful factor in deprivation of play – the duration of such restrictions.

But with tighter guidelines still imposed on regulated childcare services, those falling outside of the Care Inspectorate’s remit were given the opportunity to adapt and thrive.

“There is no one better than playworkers to adapt and thrive”.

Marguerite Hunter Blair, CEO Play Scotland

Full article here.



‘Let children play’: the educational message from across Europe

The Guardian article by Jon Henley, Philip Oltermann, Sam Jones and Angela Giuffrida

While approaches may differ, the importance of free time to play is increasingly being recognised

‘In short, writes Sahlberg, “Finland’s insight can boost grades and learning for all students, as well as their social growth, emotional development, health, wellbeing and happiness. It can be boiled down to a single phrase: let children play.”’

Full article here




Skip the kindergarten cop routine: free play is vital for young children

The Guardian article by Michael Rosen

Give children the space to express themselves and they’ll learn things that ‘structured learning’ cannot teach

“Free play has at its heart the spirit of “trial and error without fear of failure”. I once watched a very young child in a park approach a low dome that was in the middle of the path. From a distance, someone like a government minister could easily characterise what was going on as purposeless, chaotic and without any learning outcome. It was after all just a child “running around” – literally.

I have a different view. The girl had noticed the dome and decided to do a dance, skipping round and round it and over and over again. As she did so, she made up a song with the words “round” and “roundy-roundy” in it, working variations as she danced. The movement and the singing were created without fear of failure and involved a variety of trial-and-error activities: testing the size and height of the dome, testing the little gradients for their “danceability”, matching her song with the movements and vice versa, expressing the whole thing in words.

I call this “learning”. There’s a lot of cognition going on there, but I would also want to add in what the activity did for her sense of self and wellbeing. She had created something that worked: a fun song-and-dance routine, using the environment (the dome) that she had encountered. She held her arms out, taking up more space than we do when we hold ourselves folded up. It was a physical expression of confidence.”

Full article here



Learning through Landscapes: Apply for wet weather clothing for your class!

With 4.2 million children in the UK living in poverty – that’s 9 children in a class of 30 – many children don’t have the right clothing to keep them warm and dry.

That’s why, at the end of last year, Learning through Landscapes ran a Crowdfunder campaign to help kit out the UK’s primary schoolchildren in wet weather clothing.

Thanks to everyone who generously donated to the campaign, they were able to raise over £6,000.

These donations will enable Learning through Landscapes and Muddy Puddles to provide high-quality wet weather clothing libraries for full classes of 30 pupils in 7 primary schools across the UK. These clothing libraries will ensure that children can get outside whatever the weather, year after year.

To ensure that this wet weather clothing is getting to the schools that need it most, Primary Schools who apply must fulfil the following criteria:

  • Your school must be a Primary School or include primary provision.
  • You must have support from your school leadership team to apply for the programme.
  • If in England or Wales, your school must have over 40% of pupils in receipt of Pupil Premium.
  • If in Northern Ireland, your school must have over 40% of pupils eligible for Free School Meals.
  • If in Scotland, your school must be situated in Deciles 1-3 of 2020’s Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

Applications will close on Tuesday 25 May 2021, and the lucky schools will be contacted very soon afterwards.

Apply here



National Children’s Day UK 2021

Sunday 16th May

National Children’s Day UK (NCDUK) is all about the importance of a healthy childhood and how we need to protect the rights and freedoms of children and young people in order to ensure that they can become happy, caring and connected adults. From family videos to school and community events, local authority initiatives, talks, seminars and youth led campaigns, it’s a great opportunity for everyone to raise national awareness about the things they care about – and especially about the impact of COVID on children and young people.