This event was held on Thursday 23rd June. The recording is available below.
The role of play in child development has changed dramatically in recent history. Just as digital technologies affect how we work, shop and socialise, we’re also seeing new and advanced developments in online play and learning environments for children.
For parents, caregivers and childcare workers, it can be a daunting task to try and work out which activities – online or offline – contribute positively to a child’s development.
Join us for an in-depth conversation with Dr Yinka Olusoga, academic and researcher in education, culture and learning, on supporting constructive and creative playtime for children.
Dr Olusoga’s interdisciplinary research and commitment to understanding the lived experiences of children has lead to new insights on how the practice of playtime can help children to socialise, learn and grow.
Why you should come
This event is for anyone interested in learning about child development and how to ensure all children have the best possible start in life. Whether you’re an academic, researcher, child services professional, or a parent looking to support their child, this event is for you.
Dr Olusoga will discuss her research into child playtime, why we need to rethink the role of digital play, the role parents can have playing with their children and how can we best understand children’s lived experiences.
Dr Jenny Gibson: [00:00:00] Hi, everybody. Welcome to our event. This event is a Nesta talks to event, and that's a conversational series of events where we chat to some of the most important influential and innovative minds around our society. And really, we want to dig into some of those big topics. Relating to Nesta's missions and our innovation methods.
A couple of housekeeping things before we get started. If you want to use closed captions for accessibility purposes you can access those via are linked in livestream. And if you would like to join the conversation and we very much hope that you would please do use a comments box on the right hand side. Ask any questions or share your thoughts throughout the events.
I'm gonna have a bit of a chat with our speaker for a while, and then we'll pick up on some of those audience questions a little bit later on.
I'm Dr. Jenny Gibson, [00:01:00] I'm the chief scientist here at nester. And if you're not familiar with Nesta we're the UK's social innovation charity. Working on social innovation missions.
We have three mission areas. We're working towards a sustainable future, helping to get the UK to net zero. We're considering how we can all have a healthier life. For example, through reducing obesity and loneliness and most relevant today, we're. Interested in getting a fairer start for all children and young people in the UK.
We're interested in how we can narrow the outcome gap between the most advantaged and disadvantaged kids in our society. So I'm really excited that today we're joined by Dr. Yinka Olusoga who's a lecturer in education at the university of Sheffield, and she's a co-investigator on the play observatory project. And she's also got an interesting background previously having been a primary school teacher in Birmingham, Liverpool and London. She's also the director of the British [00:02:00] academy research project, childhoods and play. And her current research interests focus on intergenerational and intercultural play and storytelling and on the co-construction of inclusive networks and spaces for play.
So welcome Yinka. I'm really excited that you can join us today because as play is also a special interest. That's close to my heart. So can you start off by telling us a little bit more about the play observatory project and what motivated it?
Dr Yinka Olusoga: Yes. Thank you for having me and happy to talk about it.
So the play conservatory project comes out of a history that we have at Sheffield and at University College London of doing collaborative, interdisciplinary work on projects about children's play past and present. So together we want the British academy project that you've just mentioned. And that's based on the archive of the British folk LA.
Of children's play Iona and Peter op and a range of projects have already stemmed from that work. Looking at archives, but also looking at children's play [00:03:00] today and digital play as well as offline forms of play. So all of that previous work really made us appreciate the importance of recording children's everyday play.
And that play is innovative and it responds to the new, but it has deep continuities and traditions that span generations. So in 2020 as the pandemic was sweeping the world, we were asking ourselves, this question, what happens to play during the global pandemic and also during our first global pandemic in the digital age, was that going to be making any difference?
So coming together for a specific project related to play and the pandemic was a really natural step for us. And we began with history in mind, really aware. the pandemic is a historical event. So we wanted to capture what was happening to children's play and leisure time during the pandemic to help us understand their experiences and their wellbeing now, but also to inform the historical record [00:04:00] of the pandemic for the future.
So that work that we've done. Based on the op piece, but also a range of other archives and research studies really told us that even in time of adversity, children find ways to play and that it contributes to their wellbeing. So we there was a call from the UK research UKRI for rapid response projects to look at different aspects what was happening during COVID 19. And we put in a bid, we aimed to collect from children and their families, examples of their everyday play via a national online survey. We wanted to conduct online ethnographic interviews with children in their ownhomes. And we also wanted to invite some young filmmakers who contributed to the survey to take part in media production workshop.
And we commissioned some films on the theme of COVID and play from them. So that was the three strands of our work. And we were very fortunate as well. We partnered with other [00:05:00] institutions. So we partnered with what was the museum of childhood, but is now a young V&A. To co-create a virtual exhibition based on some of the surveyed contributions and that went live earlier this year.
It's called play the pandemic. And if you Google that you will find it. And then we partnered with great Ormond street hospital to co-create some wellbeing packs centered on supporting children's play, which again are part of that exhibition and with the British library to prove. Preserve some of our sound data.
So I think to sum it all up, what we really aim to do with this is to center the voice of the child and to involve children of all ages, to make sure that children's pandemic experiences were attended to now, but also in the future.
Dr Jenny Gibson: That's absolutely wonderful and so fantastic that you had such a diverse team ready to go at that moment and respond so rapidly.
I'm super interested in what the key insights and findings from this interdisciplinary research are.
Dr Yinka Olusoga: I think it's been really fascinating [00:06:00] working as an interdisciplinary team. So I'm a historian of childhood and play. We've got folklorists, we've got people who are into media. Multi-modality lots of different perspectives.
And also we've been really fortunate in that, we had lots of contributions and they have ranged from children, who are months old to children who are 18. Young people and the benefits. It's been difficult to do an entire project without actually meeting and to do it all online.
But also the digital has allowed us to collect a range of different types of ex of contributions. So we've got text, but we've got photographs of drawings and videos as. And we do bring those different lenses. The cultural studies, folklore studies, media literacies education. And what we're finding is that the findings continue to emerge as we continue to engage with the data and we engage with it separately, and we also come together to engage with it.
And that's very really interesting, the difference. The things that we see [00:07:00] in the data, I think for all of us, an overarching theme is really how productive children have been in the new spaces and relations of the pandemic. And that's really important. I think, cuz obviously we've had this dominant discourse of learning loss and but we've also, we are seeing really productive, interesting things that the children were able to do.
In spite of restrictions and it's really been interesting how resourceful their play has been. So we see them combining the old and the new traditional forms of played digital in an innovative ways. We see them. Managing to maintain connections across networks of friends and families through play and really thinking very deeply about their experiences as well.
So we have some contributions for example, was a group in Birmingham called the home cool kids who started their own online magazine and they were writing and drawing about their experiences in the pandemic. And that's again beautiful to hear the voice of children talking about not just what they've [00:08:00] done, but how it's made them feel.
We've seen children really making the most of what they have and events of events and opportunities. So like adults, they were learning new skills and they were sometimes using time to engage in new interests and just really thinking at the moment my son's off on his year, six residential, and it's a bushcraft residential.
He spent most of the pandemic going out and doing bushcraft in his hour, outside with his dad. So he's got skills to bring to that, that he wouldn't have necessarily had without the pandemic. So children didn't exist in a vacuum and they often went back into school when it became much more normal with, new interests, new skills to.
Dr Jenny Gibson: That I was really interested in the extent to which, we were thinking about play as a means for children to process the collective trauma of the pandemic. Maybe it's an assumption that it was particularly traumatic. I know we have heard from some children and families, actually, [00:09:00] they experienced a more positive pandemic and had space and time to, to just be themselves. But nevertheless, there's lots of things that provoke anxie, such as dealing with germs and difficult conversations, maybe losses of loved ones. Do you see a role for play in managing trauma or difficult experiences for children?
Dr Yinka Olusoga: Yes, I think, yeah, it does have that.
I think what we see is that play can be a lot of different things it's, really complex. So we do know that, play persists in adversity and we definitely see that in this data and, obviously the constraints and the worries of, difficult and frightening times like the pandemic could be, are very real.
And children. Still find ways to play. And obviously the pandemic, it hasn't been this steady thing, has it it it's chronic and it has acute episodes. It's different at different times. So just like adults who are experiencing traumatic events, children, I think learn to adapt their everyday play activities to the changing [00:10:00] circumstances.
And they use what's available creatively. So we could, we saw example of. They could be an escape from the world. It could just be a chance to process the things that they were seeing in the world. And obviously we've got lots of, children who were, babies and toddlers and so hand sanitizer stations and, doing a lateral flow tests was just part of their world.
So when it's appearing in their plate, it's not necessarily a traumatic thing. I think it's just. Processing the things that they see in their world, but obviously there are play can also be this chance to rehearse things that scare them or to rehearse things that they're looking forward to.
So I'd say that we could see that within play, that link to emotion play is deeper and more complex than simply fun, which I think often we. Throw it away thinking of it in those terms. And part of what we wanted to do with our design was to really explore the emotional states that children experienced during play.
And it's really interesting how I think a range of [00:11:00] emotional states can develop over time, but they can also coexist within play episodes. So you can have excitement alongside silliness. You can have that, that deep immersion and satisfaction that comes from practice and mastering of something. Have the thrill of risk.
Sometimes children expressing anger and anxiety and communicating their emotional. To themselves, but also I think to their grownups and that, that kind of reminds me relating back to how we de designed the play observatory survey. So we like all researchers do. We trialed our survey and us as researchers took part in that trial, I remember uploading an example of some chalk play from April of 2020.
And I uploaded it with my son in February of 2021. And it was a really interesting process, actually. So he'd done this play when, and he'd just gone out into our driveway. I thought he might be doing rainbows. I wasn't really paying attention. And I looked up and he'd been drawing get out [00:12:00] and skull and crossbones and I was like, what's going on?
And it turned out he was expressing his anxiety because he knew we shouldn't be having people to the house and that we had this social distancing, but obviously we'd had people delivering things to the house and he was anxious about that. So that play episode had been first time I'd realized he had that anxiety, but then when we were uploading nearly a year later, it was another chance to talk about that.
And he was talking about how he'd been anxious, but how actually doing that play. And then having that conversation with me. And then his sister came and joined in how that'd help him really think about it. And he called it pandemic, panic drawing, but he felt better at the once he'd done it.
So from that trialing, we realized we wanted to prompt children a bit more to talk about their emotions. So we used emojis in our survey, which is quite innovative. And we also included a prompt for parents reflections on having had this [00:13:00] conversation to support your child, making a contribution to our survey.
Has it, helped you think about what that play meant to you at the time, but also now? So I think, yes, it, we, I think play is so complex children doing a lot of things with it, but also some play was just play wasn't about the pandemic. It was just having, an engaging experience.
Dr Jenny Gibson: And that's really interesting. Cause I guess it provides some sort of continuity as well as the kind of response to news I was really interested to chat to you about your work on the opiate archive. Particularly because that was one of the, that their book was one of the seminal texts that inspired me to work on play, although my own work is going in different direction and come from folklore studies.
I think that. For me that has a kind of fascinating appeal to look back and see what, what were children doing and saying on playgrounds all those years ago. I'm interested in your view of why the opens work is still relevant and how it's influence continues to the present day.
Dr Yinka Olusoga: Yeah I think we probably have a very similar response to the [00:14:00] ops. For me it was something that I came to as a historian of play and of childhood. And so the chance to work on a project that's based on looking at their archive for me was really fascinating. It's the treasure to trove.
Over that 30 year period, they collected over 20,000 contributions from children about their play, about their, chartered and playground experiences. And the bulk of that was from a national survey. That was. Through building up a network of adults, mostly teacher and child informants.
And so obviously the relevance of it just became very different once I was working on the play observatory. So I think it's really deepened my appreciation not just of the content, but also how they went about, collecting and doing their research. Their responses are mostly text, but they do have some drawings.
But I think for me, what was really important is that them demonstrating the importance of children's everyday play. And it's it. That's the beauty of it. I think when you get lots and lots of little examples, they're not. [00:15:00] Examples that in individually are gonna change the world, but actually there's something about bringing them together and seeing the patterns and seeing the little, the innovations and the twists, but also the continuity it's really important.
I think they also demonstrated that children are preoccupied with contemporary issues and obviously they change over time. But we can see some continuity in the types of of issue that children respond to and how they incorporate them into their play. And I think also for me, they have a real interest in children's folklore and children's own folkloric interest.
So children engage in, celebrations, rights of passage and customs. So it's a broad understanding of what play and everyday activity is. And I recently spent some time at Oxford cuz their archive is split over between the Bodi and lively at Oxford and the folklore society in London and spending some time, going through the archive in Oxford was fascinating, cuz they have wider material that didn't just come directly from children.
So they were avid [00:16:00] collectors of cuttings from newspapers and it gave me a real appreciation of the breadth of their interests, cuz they're really interested in children's cultural worlds. And I think. Understanding and having respect for children as productive cultural agents is something that even today I think is underdeveloped in many adults and in, in some of our provision for children.
So I think that also that co-design, like I said, that involvement in co-designing this digital survey with Kath banister and Julia Bishop who's at Sheffield who are folklorists, they really helped me appreciate the. Methodological aspects of the ops work. They conducted their research largely by a post sending written surveys out to the teacher, informants who would then share them with children.
They would collect children's written responses and then post them back to the ops. So it's an analog version of our online. After distance research that was necessitated by the [00:17:00] COVID lockdown. But we became really interested in how they developed their approach over time. Cuz anybody who's ever asked children to tell 'em about their play, it's a very good way of shutting down a conversation.
Isn't it? Yeah. So it's how to. Phrase prompts that are open, that elicit detailed responses from children. And so when we were designing the survey, instead of suggesting specific games or rhymes or activities, saying, have you made rainbows for your windows? For example, we tried to design prompts that were very thematic and broad and open ended.
And we were also influenced by the work of Brian suton Smith, understanding, play as being diverse and ambiguous, but also the, those inherent playfulness in a range of activities, including these custom practices and performances. So we reflected that by asking for things about birthdays and, celebrations and children's superstitions or vernacular beliefs. So one thing I think that's definitely come out of that one [00:18:00] strand of analysis from the play observatory, that's new for us is thinking about children and celebration during the pandemic.
And we have some really very rich and quite moving examples in the data of children creating their own versions of celebrations and customs in digital spaces. So we have birthday parties and Christmas celebrations and even a funeral in Minecraft. And it's fascinating to see how they're drawing on their previous participation in pre pandemic versions of these events and recontextualizing them in digital worlds.
So it's really interesting use of digital tools and tailoring the affordances of those digital space. And it's really interesting. Some of this is in neuro divergent children, and it's fascinating to see what these offer that perhaps aren't available in the traditional forms of celebration.
That's really interesting because there's this whole narrative around digital play being somehow impoverished and not really the real thing and children are missing [00:19:00] out. It sounds to me like your data are telling a different story.
Yeah, I think that's a really important aspect. And I think, again, it comes back to this idea of what do we get from being interdisciplinary.
John Potter and Michelle Cannon and Kate Cowan, who've worked on the project. We are very much into the idea of children's literacies children having multiple literacies. And that includes. Media and digital literacies. And I think it's really helpful to expand, talk from literacy to literacies and appreciating the range of literacies that children come to schools and settings with, and that they deploy to read the world and participate and to help us challenge those unhelpful Bies, like you said, Because they're boundaries that exist in adult thinking that don't exist in children's thinking.
So we have this kind of offline equals really equals good. And online equals not really equals bad and children just range across. They don't see a divide and we sit, we saw a lot of examples in the play [00:20:00] observatory of children, starting. Some play episode online, then it moves offline into the garden.
Then it comes back and then it's in another space. And it's really interesting. So there's lots of hybridity. And they are not seeing, there's not hierarchy of one being better than the other. And children are pulling on their cultural experiences in all these different spaces and creating really productive, interesting ways of expressing themselves and connecting with each other.
Dr Jenny Gibson: That's so interesting. And I guess it brings me onto the, one of the final points I wanted to touch on, which was really thinking about why do you think it is that issues around early childhoods and young children's experiences are so neglected in our society and public life and public discussion.
What's your take on that?
Dr Yinka Olusoga: Oh, I think it's really something that of, I find very difficult to understand, cuz I think for me One of my, one of my [00:21:00] interesting experiences I had as a teacher was I went to teaching a school in Knowsley in mercy side and I was teaching a year, three class.
And then the next year I was teaching reception class. And when this was announced, my wonderful parents of my year three class burst in and said they were going to talk to the head teacher, cuz they were really upset. I'd been demoted. And I had to explain first of all, I really haven't and secondly, I'd asked for this and I just thought it was really interesting that we assume that working with younger children is a demotion.
What does that say about how we understand what young children are doing? And. How we think about and value the people who work with them. So I've taught people from age three to people who were in their seventies. I can honestly say, I find that when I was teaching nursery, it was incredibly intellectually demanding.
When I was teaching a year, three class, I knew what was happening in the class because I had planned it all. And I had decided what the resources were [00:22:00] and I'd set children on pre ordained tasks, which I knew what the end project was going to be. That didn't happen in nursery. And a lot of my time was that in real time, trying to work out what I'm looking at, what they're doing, what knowledge and skills are they deploying?
Where might they go next? And I, so I think part of our problem is that we genuinely don't. I think we underestimate children and particularly very young children and I don't, and I think they're on, they're seen as a separate rather than part of our cultural world. And I find that very odd. So for me, I think it would be really important if we have to have a kind of cultural change and have genuine and authentic approaches.
To understanding and valuing children's cultural participation that they are active and they are part of their world and they want to take part and participate and also understanding that they are culturally productive. They're not just [00:23:00] reflecting back what they see in the world. They are making things.
And I think going back to my lense historian, I've spent lots of. Looking for children and childhood in archives and museums. And it's quite hard, to and uncover them sometimes. And it's very rarely from their own perspective. So my question in working with children is, how can we going forward with what children are doing now?
How can we make the historical record inclusive of children, of their diversity and of, their contributions to our cultural lives.
Dr Jenny Gibson: and do you see, I'd love to think about some of the positives there what's changing. Have you got some good examples of where we're starting to do this?
Dr Yinka Olusoga: I think I'm really. I was very lucky because I was surrounded by playful adults growing up and they made all the difference. They made home interesting. They made going out into my community. Interesting. [00:24:00] And I think that absolutely enriched my experience. And I do see a lot of adults who are committed to being playful and creating playful spaces that include children.
So I think things like the child friendly cities I live in Leeds, which is a child friendly city. I love seeing what happens there. And it very much means that my, my children have been brought up feeling part of the city and welcome in the spaces of the city. In a way that I think, wasn't always there when I was growing up.
So I think, having. having the message. I think we do a lot of the research that we do as Sheffield is working with children and families not just in school settings but in, museums, art galleries, other third spaces and. There's an interest from the public and from people who are running different services about how do we support people who want to be playful adults who want to engage in that intergenerational play, which I think is really important.
And certainly coming out of our [00:25:00] data is, has been happening. So I think it's about, supporting adults to have their own passions and. And that means we need a healthy, fair society. So people have the space and the means to do that because I think one adults are doing that and they're playful. We can help to not label.
We, we tend not to label things, adults do as play. And I think that in a again, means that we devalue what children do as play. We don't think about what we are doing as play, but I. Helping to support families and other people to be have adults who want to engage in children with their play, who help co-create environments for play and who are able to collaborate rather than dominate.
When they're in play. So some of the work I've done with we have a project at Sheffield called maker futures, which is run by Dr. Allison Buxton and that's look using maker spaces and tinkering, but we work with families and support people who perhaps [00:26:00] aren't feeling very playful or creative to begin with, and maybe are a bit scared of bits of new technology.
But they can come to some of our events, engage in some very playful, open ended, hands on experience with their children and come out with some skills and some confidence hopefully to take that playfulness back into their homes and their communities.
Dr Jenny Gibson: That's super interesting. I just wanna move over to some of the comments we're getting from the audience.
And there's a really interesting question here about how should we think about the differences between spontaneous. Organized play. I guess we're thinking here, is it very instrumentalist thinking here or is it better to sit down and play snakes and ladders or to perhaps think about where we could have affordances for more child led spontaneous interactions?
I'd be really interested in any examples you've got from the work you've done and just your general reflections on this differe.
Dr Yinka Olusoga: I think it's really interesting [00:27:00] for a long time. I was a teacher educator leading courses for people qualifying to teach in the earliers foundation stage and key stage one in particular.
And that's obviously something that they really wrestle with. How do we plan. More perhaps teacher initiator play, but also how do we expand and make sure there's opportunities for child initiated play. And I think one of the most important things that we can do and that I remember doing as a teacher myself, and I think I, I didn't go as far as I'd like to have done.
Why do we assume that if we're going to organize and plan things that actually adults have to do that for children without children's involvement. So I think looking at the spaces, looking at what we can do and involving children in those types of, at that thinking. I think that's really helpful cause children, I think aren't just capable of being spontaneous.
They are also capable of thinking ahead and planning and just flagging on a project and working on something. So I think we don't necessarily need to see those as a [00:28:00] binary. Maybe we can see it as a bit of a continuum. So I think thinking about participation and really analyzing when we're, and when we've been working with children, thinking I'm always very mindful of where.
Where the lo where does the control lie? Where does the power lie? Because sometimes I think. As an adult I have in order to give children the opportunity to feel that absolute rush when that you have thought about, so say you've planned it, you put it into action. And you've got your tidal moment where you.
Show it to other people. A lot of the time, if I think back to my teaching, I was keeping that for myself and it was very benevolent, I would think, oh, I've got a great idea and I'm gonna make it for the children. They're gonna really enjoy it. And it's great activity. And I got a lot of satisfaction, but actually once I started involving children more, they got the satisfaction and they got to I think that boosts the self confidence that I'm somebody who can plan, not just for me, but for other people, I can do something meaningful [00:29:00] that I can then share with my community.
Dr Jenny Gibson: We've got a really interesting question coming through from Helen from the young V and a thinking just about this cultural agency. And I think that's a, really, the example you've just given is a great example of kinds of things that schools might do in terms of giving children that leadership and ownership of.
But also Helens for is really good because it's saying like, how do we capture for the historical records? Children's experiences, children's playful and I guess creation of meaning. And it sounds like your projects are started some way along that, but how could we get systematically better at hearing children's voices and treating them seriously and recording them for others to learn from in the.
Dr Yinka Olusoga: There's so many such a great question. And so many layers, I think, to think about. I think as a society, we need to actually include children as part of the population. A lot of the time when I'm listening to the news, for example, and people talk about. This percent of people, they don't mean this percent of people.
They mean [00:30:00] this percent of adults we see children as separate. And so when we're collecting and preserving things for the historical record, unless somebody is thinking about actually children are part of this too. It's very easy for it to be overlooked. Also, I think sometimes when children are part of the historical record, it is not from their perspective.
So thinking about how we do that is really important. And I don't think it can be left a chance. One of the issues though, and certainly an issue that we came across in, in our research was that Lots of the legislation now about how we collect data and whether we keep certain types of data that is really an intention with this historical mission, if you like.
And so the legislation itself is not saying that you can't. Collect this data, but it does mean you have to think about storing it, even that, especially digital data. So we were very aware with the club observatory. [00:31:00] It's not just the contributions that are important, but people in the future want to know about the contributors as well.
So we were having to try and collect data to of flesh out who people were, which meant us. We had to think about meaningful ways of getting children to talk about their identity. Which means we have lots of philosophical discussions about the difference between ascribing identities, so that children just tick or giving children the opportunity to articulate their identity as they see it.
So again, we're starting to get into lots of different, difficult but interesting and worthwhile discussions with museums. Obviously we have this idea of, material. Artifacts, this is digital artifacts. So again, I think when we're thinking about events that are affecting the public and we're collecting from the public, children are part of the public And the digital is an opportunity, not lots of ways.
It's easier to store, but it's still not cheap. It's not free. Someone has to be doing that work. [00:32:00] I'm really, I know this question came from the young VNA and I know that they've changed their mission. So moving from the idea of the museum of childhood to young VNA, I think that's really positive because it's about recognizing children.
Designers and, creative artists. So we don't have to wait till someone is 18 before we think that their work is worth so mean. The young filmmakers I was mentioning earlier that we had a screening of these films that we'd commissioned from these young filmmakers. All incredibly different, but my goodness, they were just so mature the themes and this is a huge age range from children in primary age range, due to secondary who really genuinely had something to say whose films have absolutely stayed with me.
I think structurally, we need to have these conversations and I know it's happening other parts of the world as well. So other people are looking at the fact, we've got some partial archives of children's. Production. And do we have [00:33:00] any idea of what's out there and can we actually surface and make this stuff actually apparent and can we value and celebrate it?
Because I think if we do that will help to go back to my first point about really refiguring the configuring, how we see children as a fundamental part of society. Not. Off to the side adjunct that are cute , which is a thing that children are often accused of, not complex and children, I think very much are.
Dr Jenny Gibson: They are. And I think you're right. It's often children's issues around play or just being themselves are often skated over and treated very superficially. And when you actually study this area, you start to see the depth and complexity. You referred to ambiguity before, and I think More people need to know about that complexity of your children's lives or maybe they do know about it, but they don't actually stop and think about what they know.
There's a couple of comments in the chat that I want to pick upon around neuro divergent children. So children with fragile syndrome ADHD sort of [00:34:00] symptoms. And the question asking here is asking about tips for playing with children. Who've got these kinds of difficulties. Anxiety as well has been mentioned here, or perhaps social isolation as a result of the pandemic.
Have you've got any thoughts regarding these topics?
Dr Yinka Olusoga: Yes. We did have contributions from children the range of diversity including some of the conditions you've talked about there in the question. I think it's really interesting. So for some of those children, the pandemic in lockdown, Actually quite a good experience that it, it offered them opportunities to do things and to adapt things in their play that actually made it work for them.
The celebration, the birthday celebration we talked about it was. Two neuro diverse children creating a birthday celebration that absolutely spoke to them and their interests allowed them to engage with other children online in a way that actually was helpful and supportive and inclusive.
We saw a lot of children. think about becoming playful [00:35:00] adults. I think if you are a parent of neurodiverse children, that is something that often the The diagnosis process can be very depressing. I think as apparent because often play particularly in the early years is where difference is first, noted and often, pathologized perhaps in that process of having a diagnosis.
And I think that can make a parent feel very anxious about play. And in a way that doesn't help. Cause anxiety is not a great state to be in if you're trying to engage with children's play. So I think, this idea about being present with children. One of the things that really came across with the play was that we spent a lot of time, I think, as a society, assuming that in order to play with children, we have to have lots of gadgets and lots of, expenses stuff, and we have to go to places.
And I think sustainability was a really interesting aspect. We saw people, playing with what was around and it was often very low tech and it was often about perhaps we were a bit [00:36:00] more relaxed as well. I think when you know, no one's coming to the house, you can have Aden up in the living room.
For two weeks and that you can actually really wallow and spend time in that play when you're not really worried about having to ti you, you can perhaps take a bit more risk. And I and some of this might have been also, cuz some parents would be working from home. The children could have an go at doing things independently.
So we have a wonderful example of, some face painting going on between children in a family because it was. We, parent just needs the child to be able to do this together. So I think it's about perhaps slowing down enjoying the kind of slowness and the simplicity, a lot of this, but also I think listening to the child and I think.
For me as a parent, during the pandemic I like to think of myself as a resource. I became a resource for my children's play, so I was there to be drawn on and to, if I needed, I was needed for my height or [00:37:00] my ability to do something, but I was also able to be dismissed if I wasn't needed without taking it too badly,
Dr Jenny Gibson: that, that, that is fantastic.
And actually some of my own research I've worked with autistic adults to work with them, and they've been reflecting back on their playful experiences as adults and when they were younger. And one of the things that came through there was that people were saying, again, it comes back to this complexity.
Different play for different reasons. So sometimes I need to be doing repetitive sensory oriented play because it's calming. It's got that anxiety re reduction function. Actually, when I, sensory demands are quite low, then I'd like to be more social and I can engage and create something new with friends.
And again, digital play coming into that finding like-minded people who are deeply passionate about the same things as you really came through as important for that. I have a great question in the chat that you are gonna love. involves . And so [00:38:00] this is a question from Tom Spencer. Who's a primary school governor and parent of a four year old.
And they say that a struggling to balance the need to evidence development that happens Partially for off offset purposes compared to daughter's preferences of play. And just thinking about more broadly than the individual child encouraging play at school. Have you got any messages for off offset in terms of supporting?
Dr Yinka Olusoga: Yes, probably don't get started really. I really think. I'm a big advocate as somebody who is trained an awful lot of teachers to teach across the primary age range that we need to make sure that we continue to view the earliest foundation stage in primary schools as a distinct phase.
And not a space that needs to be colonized by practices that are informed by this catch up discourse, which I think often trivializes and squeezes out play it. know, Children only have a very short space of time in the earliest foundation [00:39:00] stage in school, nursery reception classes. And there is something really powerful that a play can be doing.
If they can engage in it and if they can engage in genuine deep interesting play, I think it's really interesting cuz my experience as a teacher educator was I. Talk about this and I would talk about the research, but until you see it, it sounds lovely. It sounds like a nice story. And if only we could and but we've got this and we've got this intake and that, so one of the most important things I did was to, partner with a school that did this, that hadn't very play based approach and take students there and show them it.
Because I think if you've seen networking and if you've seen how it can be evidenced, and we've got so many tools now to evidence what children are doing and to capture children, talking about their experiences as well. So I think I've always seen myself, my experience of Ted as a teacher was always too.
Not assume [00:40:00] that I'm talking to somebody who absolutely knows this stuff. So my job is to advocate for this to explain and demonstrate, not just that it works, but how it works. And I think, it's developing that, that body of knowledge. So I find finding the good practice, finding the exceptional places that are doing this well, because often when you look at it, it's not.
Horrifically complicated. It is something that you can replicate and that you can adapt to your local settings. But I think, the students I sent I've sent, to this setting year after year, that like my children have went to this setting came back. Convinced and came back with the not just the practice and the skill, but the ability to articulate and advocate for this approach.
And they could take that into different settings. There is a community out there. I think that's, what's wonderful about, things like, Twitter and various [00:41:00] campaigns, that there is a community out there. There are resources, there are things being written. And I think it can be quite isolating when you are being off said, you can think, oh, it's just me, just our school just but actually reach out and find that that community, because it really, I think can support.
Dr Jenny Gibson: think you're right. And I think, I feel like there is a growing movement of people who are recognizing the importance of the early years and of play. And one of the things that I always think is that it's almost artificial to start talking about separating play from academic learning and children. So young it's really part and parcel of the same thing.
We, yes, children's development is so holistic. It's. It's interesting that isn't always reflected in some of the views of.
Dr Yinka Olusoga: I think we, I think as adults, we forget that we have been taught how to think and how to divide up the world. And children haven't yet been told that they haven't been told [00:42:00] that science and maths are not exactly the same thing and that art and science aren't the same thing. So for me, I.
What's really interesting. And I suppose my approach to research I'm not trying to impose a simplistic understanding on a complex reality. And I think within early childhood education and really with education as a whole, really there is this political and popular discourse. And I it's actually understandable with longing for a simple formula that works, but I think this is why that interdisciplinary work into early child education is really important.
It's a. Antidote to that because actually bringing those different lenses in to look at what young children are doing, opens up that complexity of their actions and their experiences. And I think it makes it much more difficult then to dismiss what young children are doing as just play and as trivial.
And it absolutely challenges this work play binary. If you under any real analysis, [00:43:00] really breaks down even in adult life, it breaks down.
Dr Jenny Gibson: Absolutely. I think I want to wrap up, but just got one or two more comments that I wanted to pick up on for the sort of final bit of discussion. So one is a comment from midway talking about providing.
Outdoor open access, play and play work model, which I think is really interesting. And then a second point around the Scandinavian model of education that priorities prioritizes play over more formal kinds of education until age seven. So I just wondered if you've got any quick reflections on sort.
Broadly proposal and the the playbook movement
Dr Yinka Olusoga: well. I absolutely think both are really fascinating. I would love to see more connection between play work research and play work departments and universities and education departments. Because I think. Part of my job as a teacher education was to teach people to [00:44:00] think like teachers.
And it was very helpful to then come across play workers. Who've not been trained to think like teachers and they have different spaces and ways of working with children. And so that kind of research I've done with play workers, but people who work in the arts has really helped me to think about opening up my pedagogy, particularly when we're working with older children in ways actually that are quite reminiscent of the play approach in early years.
being open ended, being really interested in the process rather than an end result that I've already, thought of and visualized. So I think that's really helpful in this country. I think historically, I wish we had a Scandinavia model and it's interesting when you, when people talk about raising the start formal education to something like seven, whenever I've seen that discussed in the media in this country, people automatically equate formal learning.
Statutory school age, which is, it's not the same thing. You could still have children in [00:45:00] school from five, but they could be learning in playful ways until seven . And so it's not a case of saying to parents, all right, you, you've gotta somehow find the childcare to look after a child they're seven.
No, but it means that they can. Two extra years where we're attending to their literacies, not having their, literacy as in their reading and writing, being absolutely the lens through which we see them. And also they engage with school. So going back and thinking about some of the children I've taught, I remember watching a child once I had a box full of balls for children to take out and.
An outdoor play. And I found a four year old getting all his friends to stand with different balls and he was explaining how a solar eclipse happens and he was right and he'd gone to the science museum with his uncle, and he'd all been explained and he knew it and he was able to teach it if I had to.[00:46:00]
Getting to write that down. He couldn't, so I think it fascinates me how much we make decisions about what children know and can do based on whether they can write about it or not giving them a chance to not have that until seven would open up chances. And all of the research that we've see across the world talks about equifinality doesn't matter when you start teaching children to learn to read, they.
Learn by the same age, but what the children who started later haven't had is two years of a restricted curriculum or for some of them two years of failing to learn to read. And I think that self-image impact is huge.
Dr Jenny Gibson: That seems like a great point to, to end on that appeal for greater attention to play for longer periods in early childhood when it is so important for children's wellbeing.
So Yinka, thank you so much for joining us for a fascinating discussion today, and thank you to your [00:47:00] audience for great engagement and comments as well. We would love you to fill in a survey that my colleague is gonna drop into the chat, just so that we. No we're getting it right. Or we think about what we can improve with our Nesta talks to events and possibility of winning a 50 pound book token.
So I might enter myself, if am I allowed to do that? We'd appreciate it. If. Audience members could do that also, just to let you know, we've got another event coming up on the 28th of June, that's next Tuesday. And that will be our first in of a series on early years tech. And we'll be thinking about the relationship between what we're calling toddler tech acts apps and digital experience is designed for children.
And what, if anything those kinds of products might be able to do to reduce this disadvantaged gap that we're seeing. The point of this series is spring together, different people with different opinions, futurists, academics, policy experts, and to think about how we use that kind of tech, given that it's already here, how can we make it [00:48:00] responsible?
So hope to see you there. We'll post a link to that as well and hope that some of you will sign up. Thank you very much.
Dr Yinka Olusoga is a lecturer in education at the University of Sheffield, Co-Investigator of The Play Observatory and previously a primary and nursery teacher in Birmingham, Liverpool and London. Dr Olusoga has led and taught on initial teacher education courses in Bradford and Leeds, specialising in the early years 0-7 age range. In 2019 she moved to the University of Sheffield where she co-leads their interdisciplinary undergraduate degree, the BA in Education, Culture and Childhood. Dr Olusoga’s researches children’s play and cultural worlds, past, present and future. She is the Director of the British Academy Research Project Childhoods and Play. Her current research interests focus on intergenerational and intercultural play and storytelling and on the co-construction of inclusive networks and spaces for play.
Dr Jenny Gibson is Chief Scientist at Nesta and Associate Professor in Psychology and Education, University of Cambridge. She leads the Play and Communication Lab (PacLab) at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education, a team investigating the role of play, language, cognition, and neurodiversity in human development. She also leads Nesta's practice teams in a number of areas, bringing these methods together, ensuring rigour and leading methodological innovation.