QMU creates play-friendly communities
Computer games, mobile phone apps, bullying, vandalism and lack of good spaces and facilities have stopped many children from playing happily together in the great outdoors.
But a university research project is helping children in an East Lothian village play a central role in creating play-friendly communities in Scotland.
The research, which promotes children’s right to play, has given children at Whitecraig Primary School a voice about the future of play, and is helping ignite a new passion for play in their community.
The project is supporting children to share their dreams for a better place to play, and the work is shining a light on the challenges that some communities face in accessing suitable play opportunities.
It is hoped that the research findings will influence the development of more play-friendly communities across the UK and internationally.
Transforming play in the community
One child in Whitecraig said: “play is dying in the community”. Through research initiated by Queen Margaret University, it was discovered that children were unhappy with their play facilities and that they felt sad and lonely because no-one was playing outside, and the playpark was “literally empty”. They felt the place was sad, grey and not welcoming, and that situations of vandalism to the playpark, violence, bullying and racism were stopping them from taking part in play in their community.
But with the help of a research project, children felt empowered to share their views and work together to lead change which is transforming play in their community.
Silvia Veiga-Seijo, who has led the project, is studying towards her PhD with Queen Margaret University and University College Cork within the P4PLAY programme. Discussing the importance of play, Silvia explained:
"Play is a fundamental right for every child in their everyday lives, but it’s important for the child, as well as for the life of a community. Studies show that when children play in a community, it can make a positive contribution to the development of supportive, healthy and cohesive neighbourhoods. In this research, play is an issue of social and occupational justice."
Silvia explained: “However, equality of access to play opportunities differs across the world, which is emphasised by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. But children are experts in their own play, so we need to understand things from a children’s perspective.
"This project has a child rights-based approach, so children led the process of the project and made decisions jointly with me. This allowed us to identify the real problems. Children have been able to express their views, and their feelings that ‘play is dying’ in their village. What they really want is for ‘all children to play together in their community’.”
Creating positive change
Through a process of engagement, the children decided to create a puppet show and two songs to share their experiences and thoughts on play. This helped them communicate what they want and what the village needs to create positive change to support play in Whitecraig. This process encouraged them to become advocates for improved play in Whitecraig.
As one child from Whitecraig said: “Every child should have the right to play in this community.”
‘We are the forgotten village’ was a sentiment shared by many residents who contributed to the research, with many calling for more Council and Government investment in Whitecraig. One mother said: ‘We really need opportunities for kids to play here without having to leave the community’. During the puppet show, one child said: ‘The Council should think, hey, we should make some changes in Whitecraig’.
Silvia confirmed: “The research has been very empowering for community members and the children. Having had the chance to engage with the research and share details of their everyday lives in the village, they were able to confidently share their critical view of play in their community. These opinions have been heard by teachers, parents, community organisations and policy makers and we are delighted that changes are already taking place.
"The process of doing the research together was transformative for the children, families, community and for me, as a researcher. Children said they now feel like “a family”; that the project was “helping us believe in ourselves”, and “making better our small community.”
They wanted children to “play nicely” and “respect each other to be able to play together”. But the pupils main desire is for children from other villages to come and play with them in Whitecraig.”
Changing the way we think
The project’s focus on children’s rights made an impact on many of the school children. One pupil said: “It has affected how kids play; how kids think about going outside; how adults think about how kids should play, and how kids should be. Before the play project, we did not talk about the rights of the children. But after the play project, this has made a huge impact on Whitecraig, and we would like this to be sent to the whole entire of Scotland.”
Whitecraig Primary School has been a great supporter of the research, with teachers noticing a significant transformation in many of the children. Isla Cran, Principal teacher at Whitecraig Primary School, said:
"The play project has had a significant impact on our children with them becoming more vocal about their right to play. The children are feeling more confident to express their opinions and know that speaking up about their ideas and feelings can effect positive change. The children feel valued and we are seeing this impact in the classroom too."
Theresa Casy, from East Lothian Play Association (ELPA), said: “Play is vital to children's health, wellbeing and happiness and we are really interested to understand what makes a play-friendly community. Who better than the children of the community to help us find out? Through the research project we have seen how making space for children's own views and giving them space to develop and present their ideas is critical to a rights-based approach.
"This research project has made that process meaningful, fun and creative! ELPA has learnt a great deal as part of the process of engagement with children, which has brought the perspectives of children so vividly to life. The children have shown how much there is to gain when children's views are expressed, and listen to, even when it's uncomfortable.”
Local mum, Charly Tucker, said: “I really feel that the project was positive for the children and the community, the children really feel that their voice is being heard and listened to, and they can make a change and have their play spaces improved.”
Andrew Forrest grew up in the village of Whitecraig and is now a councillor for the area. He has been a strong advocate for the project. He said:
"It was great to see how the children had engaged with the project and the way that they put forward there ideas for safe and fun play."
The findings of the research were shared with a wide audience at a launch event at Queen Margaret University. Silvia said: “There was great excitement when the children shared their thoughts on play in front of Council officials, MPs, community organisations, teachers, parents, and lecturers, as well as The Young People Commissioner of Scotland and East Lothian Play Association. They gave voice to the research by using a puppet show, two songs with a rap, and a film to communicate their hopes and dreams for the future of play in Whitecraig.
Silvia concluded: “The community of Whitecraig is stronger from having been part of the research. We now hope this model of child-led research can be shared at international conferences, in academic papers and with children’s organisations to influence the development of more child-friendly communities across the UK and Europe.”
Notes to Editor
P4PLAY is a European Joint Doctoral programme in Occupational Science for Occupational Therapists funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network.
Silvia’s research project is being supervised by experts in occupational science and therapy, Dr Sarah Kantartzis and Professor Jeanne Jackson.
The children involved in the research invite you to watch their project films on YouTube
For further media information contact Lynne Russell, Communications Manager, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.
Email Lynne Russell
M: 07711 011239
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