March 23, 2022

Kids Play

County Durham

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It's been a tough few years for children. They've lived through multiple lockdowns caused by a global pandemic that has been around for a significant percentage of their short lives. It's been tough on adults too, but if you're 40 it's only a small percentage of your life, compared to a significant proportion if you're six.

After years of being told that getting outdoors to play was good, they were suddenly told that outdoors was dangerous again. In our minds, the pandemic had the potential of undoing years of good work that was triggered after the publication of the Dangerous Books for Boys in 2007, followed by the Daring Book for Girls, soon after. We described these children, who re-learnt the incredible fun in outdoor play, as the Post Playstation Generation. Many of these are now young adults and maybe found lockdown harder than any generation - as they were the most aware of what they were losing.

But the restrictions are starting to lift and the opportunity is now there, to get outside and play, explore and have fun together.

The lockdown for CAP.Co was a time for reflection and imagination. We were already working as a devolved team across the world anyway, so were completely used to working together remotely. We believe that some of our best design work came from this period and this process. One of the projects to emerge from the lockdown drawing boards was the Plotters' Forest at Raby Castle. Silver Pear, the PR team working with Raby asked us if we'd like to be involved in a project, working with local schools to talk to them about how we design play, what's important to us and why we think play is so important in personal development.

With an offer like that, we obviously jumped at the opportunity.

The brief was to talk to the schools to launch a competition for them to design their very own playground, either as a class or individually. The CAP.Co team will review all of the entries, looking for ideas, inspiration and individual thinking, and with Lord and Lady Barnard’s help will decide which one is the winner in terms of design and excitement value.

The most brilliant bit however is the grand prize.

This will be awarded to the winning budding designers – which gives a future designer, and his/her whole class an opportunity to be the very first children to try out the new Plotters' Forest at Raby Castle for themselves, before any other child has visited.

To bring it to life for them, we visited four local schools and spoke to groups from year three up to the older students in year six.

To say the response was incredible, would be an understatement! It was as though we were letting a cork out of a bottle and sessions planned for 30 minutes ran to over an hour of questions about what we do, why we do it, whether we earn more than footballers (we don't) and testing ideas they have running around their incredibly imaginative minds.

Who knew that stick insects need play areas designing for them, or that monkeys would make great play mates?

We certainly do now.

We also talked a lot about our three simple rules for play.

Be kind
Help others
Play together

For us, these are critical in the success of any play scheme.

As a child, or an adult, it's never fun when you're on the receiving end of unkindness, helping others is a key skill that everyone can learn through play. We design play to be as inclusive as possible. Not everyone is as physically able as others and combining kindness with selflessly helping others makes everyone have more fun.

And togetherness in play is 100% mission-critical.

When we asked the children (and their teachers) what fun looked like, everyone at every age almost universally described something they did with others. Being honest, there were a few describing fun they had on their computers, but even these were when they played online together with friends.

And for us, this is the key of all keys.

Play works best when it enables play together.

If children are encouraging their parents and grandparents to play with them, they all win. The parents relive their wilder youth and the kids see their parents as people to have fun with and not just enforcers of rules and providers of meals.

The Plotters' Forest is perhaps our most inclusive play build to date. With the help of this competition, we're hoping for new ideas for how we can make our play ever more fun and ever more inclusive.

We can't wait to share it with you.

So, to finish, let's go back to the school visits. Here are pictures from some of the sessions.

The feedback we got from the sessions was amazing, with two of our favourites being from Leanne Collings, deputy headteacher at Escomb Primary School in Bishop Auckland, who said: “The session was brilliant. The children were hooked and so excited to start their designs, completely inspired.”

Chris Riley, headteacher at Gainford CE Primary School also said, “The visit was a great success. All of our children were inspired by the presentation and had lots of questions to ask too. The session really helped our children to gain inspiration for their own designs.”

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