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Play Post Covid - finding our way forward

Play is increasingly being heralded as imperative for child development during and post Covid; from articles in the UK Guardian, initiatives from the LEGO Foundation, UNICEF, and other leading global childcare providers across the globe. As play practitioners CreateCATT believes strongly that play can support the ECD sector post-Covid and should be the focus of all our child centred programmes as it is, after all the language of children. This story shows you why.

Lin Lin and Lockdown Lin Lin is a four-year-old girl on lockdown. She doesn’t really know why, but she and her family have had to stay at home for weeks now. She hears her parents talking about illness and talking a lot about grandma and grandpa. Daddy shouts more and Mummy sometimes cries, and they always seem worried. Something bad is out there. Maybe it’s a bad monster trying to get them – Lin Lin isn’t sure. She doesn’t really understand what germs are. She’s never seen one.

So, Lin Lin is confused, the world has become a scarier place than usual, smaller, confined and uncertain. She likes being home with Mummy and Daddy more as she gets lots of their attention, but fundamentally she doesn’t feel safe. She has no friends to play with and she cannot run outside and play in the playground. Her days have taken on a new form in their small city flat – less social, less physical, and strangely unsettling.

Food becomes central. Sometimes she likes to play with it and make a mess which irritates Mummy. Occasionally she has online lessons with her classmates, but she quickly loses interest if they’re not interactive. Talking heads on screen are not very engaging, and she would prefer a video game with music and clear visuals that she can control.

Her sanctuary is her bedroom, her dolls house and her teddies. She constantly rearranges her toys, ordering and sequencing them and rescuing her teddies from disasters. She builds dens of pillows and her duvet which she and her teddies hide in, and sometimes she has tantrums when her mother tries to clear them up before she has finished.

Her mother worries that Lin Lin is anxious and tries to reassure her that COVID does not really make children ill, but Lin Lin knows it scares her parents so it must be something to worry about. She uses play not just to express her anxiety but also to process it and make sense of the world around her. Playing with her food makes her feel free. Lining up her teddies give her a sense of control. Reorganising her dolls house helps her feel she can influence something. And building safe spaces helps her build resilience.

Lin Lin uses play to make sense of her world in the language that works for her.

(©CreateCATT. Shared with consent from Fighting the Dragon, 2021 reprint)

In the past year, too many children have spent too much time indoors, too little time at school or with peers learning the crucial social and emotional skills that form the basis of happy learning and development as well as core subjects that schooling offers and too much time on screens. This situation is not going away as fast as we hoped.

We are facing a generation of young children with anxiety, social disconnection from isolation and wearing masks, as well as short falls in formalised learning. Children have been sitting inside more than ever; and some have been abused or witnessed abuse, family breakdown and approaching poverty, as well as sensing the global pandemic of anxiety and loss of agency- they have picked up from their parents’ fears that the world is not safe and cannot be controlled. The opportunities for wellbeing, learning and socialisation we had previously taken for granted have changed. What we need now is to fill in the gaps in children's learning to help them rebuild their bodies, minds and souls. Play is the greatest tool for this.

Our priority in the early childhood sector is to rebuild relationships, support physical, social and emotional development, and to build resilience, flexibility and a sense of an inner locus of control so that children have the skills to recover from Covid and embrace opportunities for learning, development and wellbeing.

The model of Developmental Play gives a simple framework to introduce play for children . Play builds the limbic system ( the mammalian brain) and strengthens the brains capabilities. When there has been endemic anxiety to the extent we have seen it in the past year play is children’s language for navigating their way out of the crisis and we must harness it for them in the best way we can.

The Developmental Play approach helps us build relationships, healthy bodies and healthy minds to embrace our new realities and find the way out of Covid.

Find out more about our model on our website

Download our Stay at Home Play at Home resources at

Consider training as a Developmental Play Practitioner on

Image by Barnaby Duffy and Copyright@CreateCATT

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Janetta Maclean
Janetta Maclean
20 may 2021

Play connects with limbic system which seems to be so important in trauma also. So it has to be the most valuable tool that we have for healin post covid. Thank you once again for joining the dots...!

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