The importance of play

Last Monday we tuned into Reasons to be Cheerful “a podcast about ideas to fix the world” hosted by Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd. We were both humbled and proud to hear local headteacher Jayne Kennedy (Barlow Hall Primary) describing the many ways in which her dedicated team are supporting vulnerable children in their area, as so many of you will be doing in your schools and communities. Jayne’s story, representative of all our Manchester communities, reduced listeners to tears. This is just one of many inspiring stories behind the headlines. Follow the link in our ‘podcast of the week’ section below to hear the interview.

This newsletter and our website gathered a lot of interest last week and we value and welcome feedback and comments. One of our readers, a parent, challenged us on Twitter:  "I think we are OK for activities, school work, reading etc. What I think my KS2 son is missing the most is free playtime with his peers. Any suggestions for how to do this?" Always up for a challenge, we have turned our attention this week to the question of play, particularly social play, whilst we are distancing.

If adults played more maybe they wouldn’t be as stressed all the time

In 2019 the British Psychological Society published a position paper on “Children’s Right to Play” which explains why play is important to all aspects of children’s development. Many schools are developing as Rights Respecting Schools using principles from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In 2013 the UNCRC defined play as “behaviour initiated, controlled and structured by children, as non-compulsory, driven by intrinsic motivation, not a means to an end and that it has key characteristics of fun, uncertainty, challenge, flexibility and non-productivity.” According to educational psychologists, “the importance of children being able to play without intrusive adult controls or structure has been recognised as an important factor in promoting lifelong attributes,  such as resilience and flexibility and the development and maintenance of children’s social relationships.” (Mannello, Casey & Atkinson, 2019).

Here, with some help from Michael Rosen, children explain why play is important:

There is clearly a challenge in the current circumstances of the required "lockdown" to find ways to enable children to play and to maintain play-based social relationships with their friends. We have a number of suggestions below and hope there are some new ideas here as well as, perhaps, some forgotten favourites.

Practical ideas for keeping in touch with friends (all ages)

Hannah McHugh ([email protected]) and Ruby Noble ([email protected])

Ruby and Hannah have reviewed the variety of ways to stay in touch and ideas for virtual socials/play dates. See the full list on our website here or download the information sheet here.

  • Play online games with your friends. Have a look at what is available on the app stores on your phones or go to gaming platforms such as Steam to browse multiplayer games. Steam has some free games, and there is currently a sale on a few Remote Play games, including classics such as Uno. You can also access virtual versions of board games. Hop into a call with a friend and load up your favourite game! Kast is a good screen capture app that could be used to share your gameplay.
  • Go on a virtual trip together. Museums, zoos, aquariums and more are offering livestreams and virtual tours. Personally, I’ve been enjoying watching jellyfish floating around! Some links are available here and there are plenty more to be found online. Again, use a video chat platform to make this a group trip.
  • Organise a film night with your friends using Netflix Party. You can watch a programme together and join a group chat to talk Netflix Party lets you synchronize Netflix watching across device/locations and adds chat feature between a group


  • The Guardian has produced a very helpful review of chat apps, ranked for the quarantine period.


  • DIY Science: anyone can be an engineer with Siemans -  quick and simple experiments that KS2 children could do simultaneously in their homes and watch how their friends are getting on at the same time/chat with each other.  The experiments look fun, but the videos do feel a bit ‘educational’ .


Re-discover your inner child…

Rebecca Wright ([email protected])

Rebecca has put together an information and ideas sheet for parents that considers the different types of play (free play, guided play, directed play, work disguised as play and work) with some examples for each aspect. Why not give your older children ‘permission’ to re-experience ideas they may have left behind? Download Rebecca's resource sheet here.


Den making – make a den using what you can find around the house. Chairs, blankets, rugs, blankets, cushions. Be prepared for the mess! Why not shine torches inside the dark den.


BBC Indoor activities for children - From making papier mache to playdough recipes.


The Dad Lab - If scientific experiments are your thing, follow The Dad Lab on Facebook: make your very own bubble wand using 3 items – a sock, washing up liquid and a plastic bottle. Let us know how you get on!


Follow the Play Wales Twitter feed  @PlayWales (and #CoronaPlay) for ideas for indoor play:


Teacher Views

Will Tyrrell is a teacher at Silver Springs Primary Academy in Stalybridge.

“Last week, I wrote that maintaining personal connections would prove even more important for children than academic learning during this lockdown. Children’s wellbeing should always come first! That is why many teachers across the world have been setting fun challenges for children, alongside traditional home learning tasks. It is also why, at Silver Springs, we are giving our children and families a break over what would have been the Easter holiday.

We will still be in touch with them every day, encouraging the children to continue to learn, but – more importantly – we will be encouraging them to relax and play with their families. Instead of setting work throughout each day, we are setting ten projects for the two weeks. There are story-writing, cookery and art challenges - including a competition to decorate an egg. There is a challenge to design an indoor egg hunt, and another to teach origami skills. We have also sent links to interesting documentaries for families to watch together and discuss.

We are hoping that this will bring families together, encourage our children to rest and relax, and inspire yet more positivity in these uncertain and challenging times.”

App of the week

Lucy Thompson ([email protected])

Trying to find activities that allow our young people to communicate with each in a fun and safe way can be difficult when practicing social distancing. Below we have suggested two apps that allow children to interact whilst playing games and enjoying some free time together.

Mario Kart Tour


You can now play Mario Kart, the classic racing car video game, and invite up to seven players other players to race you in adventurous courses on mobile. The game is available to download for free on the App Store and Google Play Store.

Challenge people to a game of ‘Words With Friends’.


Each ‘Words With Friends’ game has two players, but users can have multiple games in progress at the same time, making the free app a fun way to stay connected with family and friends. The classic version of Words With Friends is free and available to be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play Store.

We have been listening to….Reasons To Be Cheerful

Teresa Regan ([email protected])

LOOKING OUT FOR OUR KIDS: steering children through difficult times

In recommending this week’s podcast I have to declare an interest as my son, Joel, is their researcher. The website and podcasts aim to offer “a space for optimism and progressive ideas”, with the weekly podcast Reasons To Be Cheerful bringing together “smart thinkers and inspiring campaigners from around the world”. This week Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd are talking about supporting children and young people through the current crisis. The episode features interviews with Dan O'Hare (@edpsydan), educational psychologist and vice-chair of the Division of Educational and Child Psychologists and with Jayne Kennedy, Headteacher at Barlow Hall Primary School. This child psychology and education focused episode is well worth a listen:


You might have missed

Bite Back support for Free School Meals

The announcement from the Government that young people who qualify for free school meals will be able to claim a £15 supermarket voucher to access meals while at home will leave many families wondering how to make the most of their limited budget. 

If that includes you, your family, or someone you know, Bite Back 2030 has put together a guide to what you need to know about claiming; a simple shopping list and some easy meal ideas that will hopefully help families.

More advice and support from Young Minds for school staff (and others) who may be experiencing additional stress and anxiety at this time. The Young Minds website also has tailored advice for young people and for parents.

Away from the virus...but still on the theme of online connections

Beverley Tyrrell ([email protected])

This interesting article in the news this week gave me a great insight into the world of online gaming. 
It describes a young man, Mats, who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It wasn’t until he died that his parents appreciated the world he had inhabited for most of his waking life, and the depth of his friendships around the world. I was struck by their sadness on having missed out on something that was such a big part of his life. I’m not advocating, by any means, that parents encourage their children to spend all day every day playing World of Warcraft. Perhaps, though, something can be learned from this example, of how important it is to seek to understand children and young people’s perspectives, in order to appreciate and share their world. The article also acknowledges how online gaming can open up and enrich lives, particularly for those who may find it more difficult to access social situations in person. This point is made in the article with the quote, "I met Mats in a world where it doesn't matter a bit who you are, what kind of body you have, or how you look in reality”.


Looking ahead

We are taking a break next week for Easter but will be back on Monday 20th April. We will be producing a new edition of the Catalyst Courier each week whilst schools are closed. Do let us know what you’d like us to cover.


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