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PLAY – an island of safety in a stormy sea

As the uncertainty of this pandemic continues to loom large in all of our lives, concern about the impact on a generation of children grows bigger. A generation growing up amid global uncertainty, a generation missing out on opportunities for attending school – or if they are at school, they’re socially distancing, wearing masks and being constantly monitored. A generation of children who have lived many months on lockdown, impacting not only their social and academic development but also their physicality and emotional wellbeing. A generation where the stress of the worst recession on record is hanging over their families, creating systemic anxiety whose ripples will be felt for many years, an event creating wide chasms in social inequality.

The World Economic Forum predicts that tens of millions of children lifted out of poverty in the last 10 years are now slipping back. The situation is dire in so many ways, it can be hard to stay optimistic. But it’s also a time when we have been able to look clearly at what matters: investing in relationships, health and communities, and thinking of new ways to reimagine education. The old ways need to change, and these changes can be harnessed for good. As resourceful, creative human beings, we’re being given opportunities to make these changes in unprecedented way.

Many amazing global organisations including players like UNICEF, Save the Children and the Asian Regional Network of Early Childhood (ARNEC) are working tirelessly to ensure that the voices of these children are heard, and their needs met. The webinar series bought out over the last few months by ARNEC,, are worth tuning into, with inspiring reports and initiatives to support early childhood development during the pandemic.

While young children are not the immediate casualties of the pandemic, its potential impact on the long-term needs of this vulnerable group requires attention. Children need and have a right to education, a right to socialise and feel emotionally safe. They need to have opportunities to develop solid foundations that set them up for life. If those foundations are unstable, they will wobble for the rest of their lives.

Growing up with the constant anxiety of this pandemic will flood their developing brains with cortisone and can lay foundations of vulnerability in mental health for years to come. Less active lives caused by lockdown and limited social, creative, and outdoor activities will lay the foundations of weaker bodies, leading to issues with sensory processing, susceptibility to obesity, and a generation of possible ‘couch potatoes’. Socially isolated, they won’t develop the skills they need for the 21st century: collaboration, empathy, teamwork, and negotiation. And as domestic violence rises worldwide, the impact of lockdown has profound implications for the communities we build in the future.

This is a time when these children really need play. In particular, the foundations of pre-verbal play, positive attachment play, safety play, and sensory body play. They also need a chance to creatively explore, to feel they have some control of their world and can make meaning of it – a key component in overcoming anxiety.

Play is not restricted to the confines of an institution such as a school. It is not controlled by governments, but only confined by the limits of the imagination. Play is a medium that builds social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills, and can happen in any language, anytime and anywhere. It doesn’t need experts; it doesn’t need expensive resources; it just needs permission and encouragement to happen.

Here at CreateCATT, we were recently very encouraged to hear from World Vision in Georgia that our Stay at Home Play at Home resources have been translated into Georgian and emailed to all early childhood development programmes in the country. Where there was no internet, hard copies have been printed and sent out into the villages to encourage play. Thirty play activity ideas showed how play helps children develop in the social, emotional, physical and cognitive domains following the Developmental Play Model – a simple resource to show adults the power of play. We are excited to think that somewhere in a mountain village in Georgia, children are confidently enjoying creating a safe space out of a simple box and feeling they can have some sense of control of the world, and adults are encouraging them to do so as they understand why play matters.

Georgia is not the only country taking up these ideas. Stay at Home Play at Home is now in eight languages including Spanish, Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia, Kannada, and French, with Nepalese, Mandarin and Urdu in process. Check them out on the Facebook page below and please share them if they inspire you. If they’re not available in your language, please get in touch and we can discuss getting them into translation.

Play is the language of childhood. Playful children are happier children, more confident children and if children are deprived of the what they need during this pandemic, play can mitigate some of the impact. Help us ensure that we continue to give children the best start in life for the best chance in life.

Further resources for courses on developmental play for parents, teachers, clinicians and childcare workers

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