Monday, 6 December 2010

Do we have to use social media to engage with the Big Society?!

Arguably one of the biggest challenges this Coalition faces in its drive to encourage engagement with the 'Big Society' concept, at least in terms of the sectors that shape and drive children's play opportunities, is that so much of this concept seems to be being developed and discussed online - on websites, through the comments posted on newspaper sites, in blogs, tweets, on youtube and even through Flikr.  From think-tanks like Respublica, RSA and Demos, Government advisors like Nat Wei and the Big Society Network's online conversations and of course the news organisations with open forums like Children and Young People Now, the Guardian and even the Daily Mail. Whether all this talk translates into action is arguable, but nevertheless this is where the discussions seem to be taking place.

To those of us excited by the internet - and with the time and headspace to keep up with the changing formats - this is accessible, exciting and an easy, quick way to find out stuff and contribute to the debate. However for many people in the play sector getting the time and space to play with the internet can be a huge challenge.

So what are the benefits of getting online for people that are interested in play?

First of all it can help us get to the latest information quickly, and you can choose how you get it. Google is useful to look up a topic, but social media can bring you the information you want instead of you having to hunt for it. Second - and most importantly - its how you can get engaged in the conversations about what, in this case, the Big Society is and how play can support it. OK just because you put a rant under a Daily Mail article probably won't change Government policy, but if you time your interventions right you can maybe build the argument for a change in the way people think about play, or get them to follow a link to some resources or build a campaign that then gets Government or local attention.

Save the Playground campaign  - - did just that and, arguably, has had an amazing grass roots impact, revitalising and marshaling ground level support. This campaign demonstrated 'big society' in action - local people driving forward changes to their own communities, using a the medium of the internet to build support.

The paragraphs below include links to the main platforms I use, and why I use them. It's not exclusive, but I hope it can provide a quick way in for those who might be looking to dip their toes in...

Before you start you'll need to do 3 things:

1) set up a new email account not linked to your work one, and probably not the one you usually use. I have a yahoo account and a googlemail account. I only use these for social media, so don't check them very regularly as I never tell my friends these addresses. I do this to stop my personal accounts getting bombarded. Also Flikr required a yahoo account (rather annoyingly) and blogger works off googlemail.

2) Think of an avatar - a name & image you want to use to represent you. At first it might be a good idea to set up throw away accounts until you get used to it, but that's not essential. What you say may be online forever, but after a couple of weeks it gets hard to access.

3) Think of a password. I use a separate set of passwords for social media because I figure they are probably less private. I don't know if that's the case. But if you have 1 set of names & passwords to remember for social media it does make life easier...

Now I love Twitter, where my tag is @CathPrisk. I think of it as a magazine tailored to my interests - where you can look up #playoutdoors to see the conversation there, or #regen, #nature or #UKedchat for schools related stuff. 'hashtags' (#) help you keep a track of conversations, or you can search on names. I started by looking up a couple of well known sector people -@RichLouv is Richard Louve, author of Last Child in the Woods, @kaboom and the @ChildrensComm; then some people in organisations whose information we use like @BenatIpsosMORI and @NatWei (Government advisor or Big Society)  - and a few campaigns - @LoveOutdoorPlay and @saveplaybuilder. Politicians and journalists are also good to follow. I particularly enjoy sending out Play England's guidance when a news story hits and seeing the 'RT' (re-tweets) when people forward your message to their followers. It's worth using a desktop viewer for twitter - I use Nambu on my computer at home and hootsuite on my iphone.

I'm a late starter using Facebook to engage with organisations, largely because I use it personally to connect with friends, but more and more organisations are posting on facebook, including our very own Play England and NCB. By 'liking' these pages you get quick links to news related to play & children's services, and you get to part of their 'family' and so contribute to conversations that matter to you. For instance when they are collating their response on issues like the current 'Big Society' consultation for the Office for the Civil Society, they'll post a link up. 

Flikr is a shared space for posting photos, and for commenting on them.  Play England has joined the Flikr community at, and there are already Flikr sites showing collections of playgrounds in general.

YouTube has 'chanels' that you can sign up to, like Creative Star's play and outdoor learning linked videos at Play England is in the process of setting one up.

Blogs are sprouting up everywhere as it gets easier. Some of my favourites are linked on the right. I chose blogger over wordpress simply because I found this easy 'how to' guide on If you sign up to follow a blog such as then you'll get an email telling you when there is a new post, or I mostly follow signposts from  twitter. 

Finally to get quick round ups of all the social media you can get twitter papers like the #RSA daily and #PlayOutdoors daily delivered to your inbox, which can help save some time!

Hope to see you - and read your thoughts - out in the great twitterverse...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Education White Paper - is there room to play??

Listening to Radio 4 this morning I was slightly heartened to hear that Michael Gove thinks that the new national curriculm should cover just 50% of the time, and that there should be plenty of space for 'music, creativity and' (did I hear this right???) 'fun'.

Well having just scanned the summaries on the children & young people now, times leader & comment, Mike Baker's blog and the DfE website I'm not so sure. I'm going to wait for NCB's assessment, but I am not at all sure this will give schools the confidence to think about the whole child.

The white paper seems to have a lot to say about behaviour. But nothing about the fact that schools still far too frequently pay scant regard to their outdoor environments, pushing hundreds of kids into huge expanses of concrete and no thought or support for their play or recreation.

Many schools are now reaping the rewards of investing in playtimes - chalks, scrap to play with, children empowered to shape their spaces. And these schools see a massive improvement in behaviour. Schools like St John the Baptist in Hackney and the schools that have scrapstores like Bromley Heath where I took the picture below. There the Head Teacher said he has saved 20 minutes after lunch every day because he no longer has cues of children to see him, and importantly those children that were always being told off for behavioral issues fell they are succeeding.

So how about we call for playtime to be extended in all schools? That children have to have 20 minutes morning and afternoon and 90 minutes for lunch? That's one return to the old-school that many of us would cheer!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Has play got a place in secondary schools?

The last Government, in preparation for the Children's Play Strategy, consulted children & families on what they wanted them to invest in around children's play. With over 9000 responses - mostly from children and young people - the overwhelming support was for more and better places to play for 8 - 14 year olds. Not for small children, but children who are already or will soon be at secondary school. 

Adventure Playgrounds - the places of magic that transform the lives of so many children - are open to all children up to 16 or 18.

Well today I did a presentation to a group of organisations representing secondary schools - unions, governors, curriculum specialists. There was broad agreement around what play can do for children - the importance for their mental and physical health, the fact that this is where children get to make friends that last a life time, that risk is essential in their play.

The biggest problem for secondaries - as highlighted in research by Peter Blatchford from the Institute of Education - is that most secondary schools have just a short morning break and barely any lunch time play.  This has dramatically reduced over the last few years, so that 95% of secondary schools have a lunch break of an hour or less. Many are only 30 - 40 minutes.

But there seemed general gloom and despondency about what could be done. Schools MUST concentrate on achieving GCSE results. And with reducing resources for assistants, less children going home for lunch and mounting concerns about parents sueing if their children have accidents, the consensus is that playtime is inevitably being cut for our 11 - 18 year olds.

And this despite the mounting evidence from neuroscience, behaviour, mental health and others that play underpins creativity, learning, problem solving, teamwork etc etc...

These are all skills valued by employers - and that help young people enjoy their teenage years. But the quote that sticks in my mind from today is one delegate looking at that list and saying that most children going  through secondary have these character traits bashed out of them...

So what's to be done? Next bit of research is to find the secondaries that have defied the overwhelming pressure, and where they are perhaps seeing the benefits that the primaries are seeing that have invested in scrapstore playpods

Certainly today reinforced my belief in Ken Robinson's analysis of education in the UK that - despite some amazing, dedicated people- is fundamentally getting something wrong. And one thing that is wrong is the loss of children & young people's fundamental right to play.