UK Government action on children’s play during the coronavirus crisis

[Update 24 March 2020] Government officials have responded to the open letter on children’s play and the coronavirus outbreak that was pulled together last Friday by Adrian Voce, supported by many leading play organisations, academics and advocates (including me) and reblogged here. Clearly the situation has moved on, with the introduction of more stringent measures, including the closure of playgrounds and restrictions on public gatherings. Adrian’s Policy for Play website gives an update. The original post is below.

Policy for Play

This open letter to the UK government – from play practitioners, researchers, advocates, and industry bodies – urges the Chief Medical Officer and Public Health England to consult with the field on producing clear advice that keeps children and communities safe while still allowing them the opportunities for playing outside that could now be more important than ever.

As researchers, children’s play charities, and advocates for children, we fully support the current policy of social distancing to combat the growing coronavirus pandemic. With yesterday’s announcement of school closures, this now includes millions of families facing an indefinite period of home-schooling, with limited or no childcare. There is understandable uncertainty and anxiety about how they will cope. One major issue is, how will children play?

Space and opportunity to play is essential for children’s mental and emotional wellbeing, social connectedness and resilience. Of course, children can continue to play inside; we…

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Play in the time of coronavirus

Authors: Tim Gill and Penny Wilson

[Updated 31 March 2020 and on previous dates, with new links to other posts, ideas and reflections, plus a few additions (in italic) and deletions (in strikethrough text) to reflect the 23 March 2020 address to the nation from the UK Prime Minister, and subsequent official guidance for England.]

The lives of parents and caregivers around the world are being turned upside down. But amidst all the fear, stress and uncertainty, children of all ages still want – and need – to play.

This post shares some thoughts and ideas on supporting children’s play in these challenging times, bearing in mind that they may need to be indoors, or socially distancing themselves following official guidance if they are outside.

Photo of a painted rock

Photo: Wikipedia (creative commons licence)

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An immodest proposal for Jeff Bezos’s Earth Fund

In case you missed it, the richest person on earth earlier this week announced the world’s biggest fighting fund for the climate crisis. He has not said much about how that $10 billion will be spent. So in a rare display of immodesty, I am going to offer a proposal.

Jeff Bezos Instagram post announcing Earth Fund

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Is child-friendly planning a luxury that only rich cities can afford?

Is child-friendly urban planning and design a ‘rich city’ pursuit? Or can it gain traction in the global South, where most of the world’s urban children will soon be living? I spent a week in Recife, Brazil exploring this question.

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The Chinese educational revolution with outdoor play as its beating heart

Anji Play – a public kindergarten service running in 140 centres for 14,000 children aged 3-6 in Anji County, China  – is gaining an international profile for its emphasis on outdoor play and its relaxed approach to risk. I first stumbled on it a couple of years ago, thanks to this widely-shared video on Facebook. More recently my curiosity was piqued by its inclusion in a superb episode of the Netflix TV documentary ‘Abstract’, on the US construction toy designer and play advocate Cas Holman.

Then I realised that an upcoming trip to China was going to take me literally to Anji Play’s doorstep. So I persuaded my Chinese clients to exploit this lucky coincidence and set up a visit.

My first view of the schoolyard at Anji Play

My first view of the schoolyard at Anji Play

This post shares some thoughts on what I saw and heard. It ends with a short interview with Anji Play’s founder, Cheng Xueqin, who has just stepped down from her role as head of service.

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A tribute to Frank Dobson

Frank Dobson MPI am very sad to hear the news of the passing of Frank Dobson. He was known to many as Health Secretary under Tony Blair in the late 1990s, but perhaps better known to UK play advocates as the author of the 2004 Dobson Review into children’s play.

As lead reviewer, I have very fond memories of working with Frank in the year or so of the review period. He threw himself into the task: chairing regional consultation events, visiting parks and playgrounds, bending the ear of ministers, and inviting senior civil servants to share their play memories.

Frank enjoyed telling how, at one early consultation event in his home county of Yorkshire, we asked the audience what they thought they were there for. After a few long-winded, woolly answers from grown-ups, a boy in the front row chirped up saying “we’re here to tell you how to spend t’money.”

Frank had a wicked sense of humour, was legendary/infamous for his plain-spokenness, and placed high value on clarity (as I learnt from his comments on my drafts!)

The impact and legacy of his report (which helped pave the way for the Government’s subsequent £235 million National Play Strategy) – and the positive response it generated from an initially skeptical play movement – are testament to his powers of communication and political persuasion.

As well as being a public champion of play throughout the review, Frank worked hard behind the scenes to overcome both bureaucratic and political hurdles and unlock the National Lottery funding that the play sector had been promised. He was also a longstanding chair of the flagship play facility at Coram’s Fields in Central London.

Frank Dobson and Rupert Everett Opens the New Sports Pitches for the 'Coram's Fields' Children's Charity, London, Britain - 12 Sep 2013

Frank Dobson and children, Corams Fields, 2013. Ray Tang/Shutterstock

It is Frank’s integrity, generosity and unwavering dedication to public service that will stay with me, especially when it came to improving the lives of the marginalised and disadvantaged. He also had a thoughtful and introspective side that belied his jovial public persona. I will not be alone in feeling that the world is the poorer for his absence.

My thoughts are with Frank’s friends and family.

Postscript 13 November 2019: Head here for an obituary in the Guardian.

Putting children at the heart of urban planning: a call for action


Authors: Tim Gill, Adrian Voce, Darell Hammond and Mariana Brussoni

Cities around the world are failing children. 30 years after the launch of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which aimed to make children’s needs and views central in policy making – most cities are hostile if not life-threatening places for their youngest inhabitants.

The global death toll of children on the roads is surely the most shocking illustration of the failure of urban planning. Road traffic is the leading global cause of death among people aged 15–29, and the second highest single cause of death for children aged 5–14.

Dangerous hilly road with cars and pedestrians, Ciudad Bolivar, Bogota

Ciudad Bolivar, Bogota

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