Playschemes create inclusive environments that enable children to play freely. They may run from one week in the summer to all year round; usually for school-age children ranging from five to 15 years; from two hours a day to seven hours a day. Play is facilitated by paid playworkers or play volunteers who have had some level of training in play. Playschemes may run for several years. Maam children’s playscheme in Galway has been going since 1996.
A few definitions may be useful:
Playwork is the provision by adults of an environment and opportunities that enable children and young people to engage in play opportunities offering social, physical, intellectual, cultural, creative and emotional development. The values underpinning playwork derive from a clear understanding and commitment to equality of opportunity, the child’s right to play, and the importance of choice, freedom, empowerment, safety and social justice.
Playwork is rooted in an understanding that children learn and develop while they are playing and that the nature of modern life often works against that process.
Playwork seeks to address that problem by creating environments that enable children to play.
Someone whose task is to facilitate, enable, encourage, empower and where necessary intervene to ensure that the play environment and the play opportunities provided for children always start with the child and/or young person’s needs first.
Playwork Unit, Sprito (national training organisation for sport, play and recreation in UK, 1999)
Play is the Focus:
Most parents and playworkers know that children of all ages still enjoy books, stories, drawing, music, walks, making things from almost anything, games, and generally playing alone and with others.
While much of what happens in a playgroup or an after school club may have similarities with what happens in a playscheme, a child’s right to play is the central focus in a playscheme.
Children are consulted, make choices and help run their own play space. The value of play is recognised for its own sake and play is acknowledged as distinct from sports or recreation.
While playschemes are carefully structured and have clear boundaries and rules agreed with and among the children, there is not a programme packaged into a series of adult–directed 30 minute activities. Children have time and space to immerse themselves in the play of their choice.
Playschemes aim to foster independence, mutual respect and self– esteem among children of different age and ability groups, who might otherwise be separated by the structures of everyday life (pre-school, school age, special needs . . . ). They offer opportunities for children to play together in a stimulating and safe environment, with enough playworkers (one to two playworkers for every eight children is recommended) to help create a rich play environment and facilitate play.
Accessible playschemes are based on equal entitlement and accessibility. They are usually free or easily affordable by all. They can run from one week in the summer to all year round, usually for school age children, ranging from five to 15 years or for different age groups e.g. five to nine years, ten to 15 years. They can be run for two hours a day or six/seven hours all day. Numbers can range from 12 to 50 and depend on age and abilities of children attending, quality and size of venue, numbers of playworkers and helpers available.
Paid staff and volunteers have undergone or are given training in areas such as play and child development, first aid, the role of a playworker, listening skills, health and safety.
Trained and experienced playworkers help ensure play is inclusive and meets children’s needs/abilities. Playworkers facilitate play and help create play opportunities rather than direct play.
Playschemes are not dependent on lots of equipment. The more loose parts in the play environment, the more innovative and creative the play.
Basic Equipment quiet play area
dressing up clothes and accessories
story area and books
active play area
boxes all sizes for imaginative play, making things
messy play/art area with water available
balls various sizes especially beach and foam balls
crayons, pencils and paints, scrap paper and some larger sugar paper
some musical instruments perhaps made by children themselves
puppets, masks some made by children
junk craft materials, scissors, glue
construction toys e.g. bricks, lego
old socks for throwing games, making puppets
Playschemes may also choose to have some specific organised art workshops, games or story sessions; some run trips.
Organising your Playscheme Aims and ethos of the playscheme. Why are we having a playscheme?
Involving children in planning & running it.
Who is it for? Ages. Access. Children with special needs.
Criteria for deciding who attends.
Free or affordable.
Creating a local play policy for the scheme, including issues such as policy on child abuse, bullying etc.
Health and safety issues.
Venue, inside and outside—access, safety, storage, rent, emergency telephone.
Staffing—paid staff, volunteers. Who else in the community can offer skills/help.
Training for paid staff and volunteers
Numbers—what will venue and staffing levels support in terms of health and safety and in terms of quality of experience.
Number of days, length of days.
Insurance e.g one or two weeks summer school insurance to cover public liability and employer’s liability for volunteers as well as staff. Equipment insurance?
Equipment and supplies—what do you have; what can you borrow; what might you need to buy?
The play environment—arranging space and equipment e.g setting up a messy play/art room (see also Basic equipment and the play environment above)
Working out a contract with children and helpers on the first morning
Building in reviews and evaluations from children, parents/playworkers
Playschemes need careful organisation to work well and the contract, group time and making name badges on the first day and group and circle/ co–operative times on subsequent days are a big part of this.
See Brochure – Maam Children’s Playscheme
Children need to feel secure at the playscheme, be involved, know the boundaries and who they can turn to and feel part of a larger caring group. Simply reading out or putting up a list of ‘rules’ does not work that well and often leads to children not taking responsibility for their own behaviour and helping less e.g clearing up, more conflict, teasing and even bullying.
Successful playschemes should have:
Policies on Play Child Protection
Code of Behaviour
Health and Safety
Planning your Playscheme General administration and organisation Grant applications
Keep notes at each meeting including action who agreed to do what
Organise insurance for scheme
Check equipment (keeping an inventory)
Buy new equipment
Design & send out booking forms and helper’s forms
(remember to include medical/special needs)
Produce consent forms for trips/specific activities where necessary
Collect in forms and money—taking to bank
Collect receipts & noting expenditure, checking budget
Give out expense forms staff and volunteers should be
reimbursed for telephone calls, postage, printing, travel etc.
Produce lists of children, ages and medical needs,
emergency contact numbers etc.
Check first aid & set up accident/incident book
Coordinate helpers and who is doing what when —
produce an overall list of who is at scheme, when, and their roles.
Plan scheme especially first day—contract and settling in,
Plan any specific workshops or events e.g. dance, treasure hunts, trips
Included by courtesy of Playshare
Photos were provided courtesy of ‘Maam Children’s Playscheme’
Model of Good Practice
Maam Children’s Playscheme:
“… a volunteer playscheme in rural Ireland Maam Children’s Playscheme caters for young people aged five to 14 from Maam, Co Galway and nearby villages … Visiting children are also welcomed. There are no paid workers. The playscheme depends on parents, young adults and others working together. As far as possible parents and carers are expected to give at least a day or half day at the playscheme … At the playscheme itself children choose what they want todo – much of it is free play, with some organised workshops …”
[extract from Ready, steady, play: a national play policy published by the National Children’s Office, Dublin]