“Play stands at the centre of human development, especially in the formative years, but its importance has to be defended by each generation anew, often on different grounds”.
Sturrock, Else and Russel (2004)
As Sturrocks quote states it is important that different generations recognize the significance of play in children’s health and development and there is a growing body of evidence which illustrates the importance of play and its provision throughout history. Consequently the need to provide for better and more play opportunities has begun to filter through into Government policy and has resulted in the introduction of a play policy in Northern Ireland.
This essay will give a brief historical perspective on the changing nature of childhood and raise the question as to whether a significant change has taken place in childhood that is lived today. This essay will look at the Play Policy for Northern Ireland and the extent to which this policy has impacted on and acknowledged the value of play in children’s health.
Thomas, N (2000) asks the question “What is Childhood and is it something natural or is it a social construct?”(p5).
He states that the fact that as these are frequently asked questions must indicate that childhood is a contested phenomenon. Prout and James (1991) also suggest that this question is still at the “heart of current debates” (p1).
Britain and France chose the path of appeasement in hopes that this would satisfy Hitler and not drag Europe into another world war. Appeasement came from the desire to make amends and prevent war at all costs. Appeasement seemed to be working for small problems but when applied to choices like the fate of a country, appeasement caused more problems than it solved. Events in Europe and Britain ...
Philippe Ariès (1979) suggests that conceptions of childhood have varied across the centuries. But exactly how the conception of childhood has changed historically and how conceptions differ across cultures is a matter of interest. Ariès argued, partly on the evidence of depictions of infants in medieval art (including the baby Jesus), that the medievalist thought of children is that they are “little adults.” According to Ariès, the seventeenth century was a significant benchmark in the attitude toward children in European history, and the beginning of modern childhood, which started to resemble twentieth-century childhood. Like Aries, Van Den Berg (1961) argued that “childhood” is an historical invention which became necessary at a certain period in the development of Western consciousness
Shulamith Shahar (1990), by contrast, finds evidence that some medieval thinkers understood childhood to be divided into fairly well-defined stages. According to Sharar, childhood in Europe during the middle ages was a concept pretty much limited to members of the upper-class. Children of the lower-classes generally had an extended infancy period to about age seven but were then, essentially, tossed into the adult world. Given that throughout human history the end of infancy and the beginning of induction into adult life had occurred somewhere around age seven, it was natural that seven year olds should go to work in the factories and mines.
Lloyd De Mause (1974.) took a “progressive” approach to history, and concluded that the treatment of children by their parents and society have improved considerably throughout the centuries. De Mause paints a very negative image of childhood, and family life in the past and he went as far as saying that; “The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken.” (P1) he also believed that;
“The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused”. (P2)
Conversely Linda Pollock (1983) criticizes all the arguments made by De Mause suggesting that “The texts reveal no significant change in the quality of parental care given to, or the amount of affection felt for infants for the period 1500-1900”. (P3) Pollock argued that childhood experiences were not as grim as De Mause suggest it was. She strongly denies that there were any fundamental changes in the way parents viewed or reared their children in this period.
“Who'se life is it anyway” is a satisfying play on a dramatic and intellectual level. The play makes it satisfying by the entertainment and the dramatic death. It makes it dramatic because of the conflict and tension of the play. The play had bitter sweet catharsis which had a resolution of conflicting emotions and mixed feelings on the play. It was also humorous that was savage and black. The ...
Cunningham (2006) observes that the twentieth century at its outset is ‘the century of the child’ and he recognizes that the future of any nation is dependent on its children. There are many positive aspects to this, as during this time, the health and education of children began to receive serious attention. From the mid-century rising standards of living enabled parents to begin to invest hopes and resources in their children on an unprecedented scale. From the 1970s onwards, children began to acquire new rights in relation to the state and to their families: the right not to be beaten in school (1982), the right to be consulted in the event of parental divorce, and the right to play.
Historians tell us that before the 19th century, child’s play was seen as an intrusion into the grown ups world of work and leisure. For once the child was out of the nappy stage, he was expected to play an active role in family life along with all of its various responsibilities.
It was Arnold Gesell (1961) who recognized that, “Children reveal themselves most transparently in their play life “(p13).
Gesell suggests that children play not from outer compulsion, but by inner necessity and that children gain much from this activity, to prepare them for later maturity and adulthood.
As the 19th century began to be hailed as, ‘The century of the child’ it was for the most part due to the forthcoming children’s reforms. By 1848 all local council authorities had statutory powers to provide for the means of education to the middle classes and in 1870, the Education Act was passed. The Act offered schools for all children between the age of 5 and 13 and attempts were now being made by schools to provide some form of organized play activities for children.
“Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts”. United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (2007:16)
Positive environment A positive environment is one that supports all aspects of the child’s development; staff members/carers can provide the children different ways to extend their developments. By doing activities and guiding the children through their learning, this creates a positive environment for them. Example: Reading and writing activities will help the child or young person’s cognitive ...
The right to play is enshrined for all children and young people up to 18 years old in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (2007).
To achieve this goal, early childhood educators must be prepared with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide children with rich and varied play experiences (Fein, 1992).
It is critical that planning for play is included in the early childhood curriculum. Through careful planning, all children, from infants through to adolescents, can learn concepts by way of play activities (Frost et al., 2001, Johnson et al., 1999).
School programs should recognize this truth and build upon the interrelatedness of all aspects of a child’s development).
In terms of children and play, it is difficult to assess the effectiveness or impact of provision because of the lack of longitudinal data and the difficulties of attributing change to a particular intervention. Both research and evaluation are influenced by cultural and political context; objectivity and certainty are therefore not possible (Robson 2002; Taylor and Balloch 2005).
Published literature on evaluation which includes play provision is limited to national programs such as Sure Start, Positive Activities for Young People and the lottery-funded Better Play program. Within this literature understandings of play, and the impact of play provision, vary (Mayall and Hood 2001; Powell and Wellard 2007).
Projects that focus on government programs for children tend to use an instrumental understanding of play and those that focus on communities, public space and regeneration tend more towards an understanding of the intrinsic value of play that it has a value in its own right.
Dewey(1897) and Friere (1971) both advocated play in its own right and they emphasize the fact that children’s personal and social needs are equally as important as their educational ones. This is also relevant to Rousseau’s (1762) theories in that the curriculum offers a child centered approach, allowing children time and freedom for sustained and purposeful play. Rousseau emphasized that childhood should be “child – centered rather than teacher- centered” (p.18), believing in the benefits of allowing children to play freely. In contrast to the Puritan view, Rousseau did not hold that play was idleness or a waste of time because it contributed to what he believed to be the main object of childhood, that “children should be happy”. (p14).
Policies and procedures of the setting relevant to promoting children and young people’s positive behaviour We take great pride in our childcare setting in promoting positive behaviour. This is reflected in many of our policies which are in place. Listed below is a brief summary of some of the policies and procedures in place: ● Behaviour policy – in order for effective learning to take place, ...
Moyles (1994) also recognizes the importance of play for children and suggests, through physical play children learn ‘balance, control and mastery over one’s body’ (p16).
There is currently major concern about the physical health of children. Much of this concern focuses around low levels of physical exercise. Children’s play, especially outdoors, offers many opportunities for physical activity.
The Fit Futures (2008) task force for Northern Ireland in examining the options for the prevention in the rise in levels of obesity in children and young people highlight the role of play in developing in young children an active and healthy lifestyle. Government departments and agencies therefore have a major role in ensuring opportunities for active play is available and accessible to all children.
Patricia Lewsley, the Commissioner for Children and Young People for Northern Ireland emphasised children and young people’s right to play and the government’s responsibility to act stating that,
“Play is a vital part of children’s development, contributing to growing social and educational skills, and has benefits in terms of improved physical development, such as reducing the risk of obesity and improving mental health. (Patricia Lewsley, Sept 2007.)
It is clear that adults have a major responsibility in fostering children’s play (Berger, 1999; Murata & Maeda, 2002).
The Plowden Report (1967) stated that adults who critised teachers for encouraging learning through play were “unaware that play is the principal means of learning” (p.193).
Ball (19940 also supported this thinking opining that children who were deprived of play opportunities did not thrive yet government policies and initiatives have continued to subject children to a “range of perceived external requirements and pressures” (p.3).
The Essay on Engage In Personal Development In Health, Social Care Or Children’s And Young People’s Settings
Engage in personal development in health, social care Or children’s and young people’s settings. 1.1- My current role is a learning assistant support practitioner within a secondary education setting. This involves working with vulnerable children and young adults on a daily basis. This includes children on the autistic spectrum, children with physical disabilities, and children with other ...
In order to assume strong advocacy roles, it is therefore important that policymakers fully understand play and its diverse forms.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (2007) states in Article 12 that:
“State Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child” (UNCRC 2007)
This statement has served as the foundation for policymakers at a national level to promote and implement a strategy to enable consultation with children and young people in relation to decision making on matters that affect them.
The Government knows how important play is for children and young people and that is why they are working on a Play and Leisure Policy for Northern Ireland, they state, “We want children and young people to have lots of interesting and safe places to go to and spaces to play and relax in”. (Information Paper: Play and Leisure Policy for Northern Ireland, 2008)
Advocate Maria Eagle (2007) Minister for Children and young People in Northern Ireland believes that “Childhood should be a fun time, free from worry and pressure and responsibility falls on all adults to make this a reality” (p1) one of the ways Eagle suggests we can achieve this is through the provision of good quality play situations. As a result the Play Policy for Northern Ireland was developed. The Play Policy will deliver on areas of the “10 years Strategy for Children and Young People” (OFMDFM, 2006) to improve outcomes for “all children and to ensure all children and young people living in Northern Ireland will thrive, be healthy and look forward with confidence to the future” (P.5).
The Play Policy document fails to begin with the government’s commitment to the UNCRC, which is central to the ten-year strategy for children and young people. Since this document is meant to contribute to the children’s strategy, I was surprised by this omission. I also find it difficult to understand the rationale for dividing the policy into a play policy for children under 11 years and a recreation policy for 11-18 year olds. The UNCRC relates to all children and young people below the age of 18 and the children’s strategy adopts the 18 figure with extension to 21 for young people who have a disability or are in care. I feel that the ‘play’ policy should be extended to the full range envisaged by the children’s strategy.
The Term Paper on Promote Communication in Health, Social Care or Children’s and Young People’s Settings 2
Promote communication in health, social care or children’s and young people’s settings Outcome 1 Understand why effective communication is important in the work setting 1. 1 Identify the different reasons people communicate People communicate to: Make, develop, build and maintain relationships Express feelings, wishes, needs and preferences Express and share thoughts and ideas Give and receive ...
In research completed by Queen’s University on behalf of NICCY by Kilkelly et al (2004), children and young people of all ages and from all areas across Northern Ireland voiced a number of concerns regarding the lack of age appropriate facilities in relation to play space. This research showed that children and young people felt very strongly about the poor state of the current play and leisure facilities within their area. Children commented on how they had nowhere to play and how if they tried to play adults often stopped them. The children also felt that adults did not realize how important play was to them. (Ready Steady Play, 2006)
Throughout their methodology the Queens Research team explored several avenues with regard to direct consultation with children and young people. A number of voluntary organizations also participated in the assistance of the consultation process.
However I feel that the research displays little evidence that children and young people participated directly with the consultation process and I feel that no attempt was made to engage with those children who are sometimes termed ‘hard to reach’ e.g., traveler children, those aged under 5 and children and young people with a disability. I feel that this is a great oversight when gathering research data as these children are often most significantly affected by structural issues; no specific consultation was undertaken with parents. I believe that parents have a particular insight into the difficulties with the current system of Public Administration and as such, would have provided a rich source of user expertise on the fault lines that often appear between agencies and organizations responsible for services to children and young people.
The principle of children and young people’s participation is embedded in any social policy (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989; Wade and Badham 2001).
However, research also shows that, children and young people’s requests for improved places to play and things to do often take a low priority, resulting in delays in changes (DTGR 2002; Chawla and Malone 2003; Camina 2004; Elsley 2004).
One of the objectives of the National Play Policy is: “to give children a voice in the design and implementation of play policies and facilities”. National Play Policy (2007).
The policy suggests that by consulting with children we provide better services, promote inclusion and encourage more confident resilient children. Flutter and Ruddock (2004) propose that consultation is “key to improving teaching and learning”.(p15).
Educators often feel unable to obtain the views of the pre-school child, citing a pre-schools child’s inability to communicate their views vocally. It is therefore important when researching outcomes for children, we are mindful that the views of the adult are very different from those of a child (Blenkin & Kelly, 1996).
When consulting with children it is important that governing bodies are creative in the methods in which they obtain an accurate view of the child’s voice as a range of barriers to children’s active participation in decision making can occur. (NICCY 2008).
Within the play policy consultation and involvement in decision making was largely organized around formal processes such as meetings within childcare settings and reviews. The children found the concept of Delivering on the Vision harder to understand but when explained, they were keen to be involved in decision making about play opportunities. (Play policy for Northern Ireland, 2008) Whilst accepting that there were elements of the consultation difficult for the children to grasp, these consultations have highlighted the value and importance of involving children at each stage of the development and implementation of the play policy.
Article 12 of the UNCRC states that children have a right to voice their opinions on any matter which affects their lives, yet the play policy consultation document is not available in a child friendly format. Therefore, literature relating to the play policy must be made available in a child friendly format so that children can actively engage in the process of shaping the parameters of the policy.
Frameworks such as RAMPS (Lancaster, 2006) may be effective during the consultation process as it consists of five elements including; making time, providing choice, reflective practice, allocating space and recognizing children’s different languages. Whichever process government decides to employ when obtaining the ‘voice of the child’, it is clear from research that children want to be consulted on issues that affect their education including their playground and leisure activities. Stafford, Laybourn and Hill (2003).
As shown throughout history, the street used to be the main place where children played, and although children do still play in the street, this has declined due to the increase in traffic, parked cars and adult fears. Part of the core offer of the government’s extended schools program is the importance of children being able to play in good quality childcare services (DfES 2005; Ofsted 2006).
The Northern Ireland education system has recognized the value and importance of play for learning with the introduction of The Foundation Stage (2008), recognizing that learning is most effective when children learn through enriched play-based experiences, building on their natural curiosity and wonder at the world.
The Play Policy will ensure age appropriate play continues to be at the heart of child development and well-being within educational settings.
This highlights my view that play is about having fun and that it is important that we work to create spaces, both in rural and urban areas, and in a range of settings, with varied educational experiences, where children are enjoying themselves and having fun.
Evidence suggests that there is a lack of sufficient staff with the skills required in order to access children’s needs and to communicate with children effectively, particularly young children and disabled children. (National Children’s Bureau 2007).
Community Relations Council Northern Ireland 2007 suggests that training should take place on cross sectoral and cross community basis. This could result in joined up projects which would “maximize opportunities to explore and learn from our diversity and interculturalism together instead of in separate facilities”. (p.4)
However, currently in Northern Ireland staff working in community or voluntary pre-schools have to pay for their own training and professional development and on-going training, and face a significant disparity in levels of pay with the statutory sector.
The play policy makes no referencing to allocating any funding to staff training and development. I feel that a firm commitment must be given to identifying and ring fencing the budget that will be allocated to the delivery of this policy. I would argue that without the finances necessary to take this issue forward, the policy is unlikely to achieve its targets.
The play policy for Northern Ireland provides an initial starting point in recognizing the importance of the value of play for our children, however much more work needs to be done in terms of developing a concrete action plan to follow the policy which will eventually lead to actual improvements in the existing play facilities. This ‘play policy’ is, quite literally, at the embryonic stage of planning. I feel that this is disappointing given that, for example, the policy published in the Republic of Ireland contains a carefully thought out and detailed action plan (NICCY, 2008).
“For children, play continues to be a spontaneous activity with no particular purpose other than what they decide for it, however, evidence shows that play is much more than that”. (Angela Underdown, 2007).
It provides children with a valuable means of getting exercise and being active and can support and promote good health and well-being.
I feel that although the Government has begun to recognize the value of play to policy developments there is still much to do to persuade Ministers that they should invest in children’s play opportunities to the same extent as they do in other areas of children’s lives.
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