It seems timely to share a post that child psychology academic Prof Helen Dodd and I wrote for The Conversation in March last year. With many schoolchildren at home once more, millions of parents across the UK are grappling with the added pressure of trying to home-school at the same time as holding everything else together.
“Free play can also help children make sense of things they find hard to understand.” Helen Dodd and Tim Gill
In one sense lockdown may be a little less daunting this time around, in part because of the hope offered by the vaccination programme. That said, many parents will be all too aware of the impact of school closures on their children’s education. They will be desperate to do whatever they can to keep their children from falling further behind.
But the truth is that no-one benefits if children or their parents are under constant stress. This is why finding some space and time for unstructured, open-ended play is so important. Play can act as a release valve that allows children to feel a sense of their own agency, and to make some kind of sense of their experiences on their own terms, with adult concerns fading into the background.
We still need much greater recognition of children’s need and right to play during lockdown, as the English Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield has called for.
One small mercy is that unlike the first lockdown, public playgrounds are mostly open, providing a welcome outdoor space, especially for families who have no access to a private garden.
This modest nod to the value of play resonates with a striking photography project put together by Will Britten, a postgraduate student at Central Saint Martins who contacted me late last year. He has put together a portfolio of images of public play areas in London that were fenced off during the first lockdown.
Some of Britten’s images signify a symbolic imprisonment of the human spirit.
But at one park, Britten came across patterns of brightly coloured yarn that had been woven into the barrier fencing around a picnic table. For me, it is a compelling reminder of the irrepressibility of the urge to play.