Quarriers Activity Playscheme (Stay and Play)
A story by Quarriers
We provided regular networking and peer support opportunities for carers of children with additional needs.
The whole family could benefit through structured activities, parents could have a break together, or parents could leave their children and have a break themselves.
What Quarriers Activity Playscheme (Stay and Play) did
Sessions were staffed with a combination of full-time and relief support staff from Quarriers, Care Attendants from Crossroads Care and Quarriers trained volunteers. We advertised the programme to parents on our database, via local health and care professionals, other agencies and general promotion in the press and local areas.
Over the course of the programme, 21 of the 49 families that participated did so for the first time. Some were new to Quarriers generally while others had lacked the confidence to take part in any leisure activity. They benefited from the opportunity to discuss their needs 1:1 with the staff member co-ordinating the programme so that individual family requirements were incorporated into the programme planning process.
12 weekend sessions were held in a fully-accessible venue in Elgin, with the programme content directed by families through ongoing consultation and feedback. Each session offered a mix of social activity for parents and their children and some focused activity time, some for families together and some for parents and children to take part in separately. 15 school holiday sessions were held, working closely with partner agencies to improve accessibility of their scheduled programmes, making them more appealing and appropriate for the families.
Focused activities included, messy play, cooking, bushcraft, yoga, musical activities and tech play. We worked with providers such as Earthtime, Dreamtime Expressive Arts, Active Schools, Playhouse Cinema and Scottish Ensemble (this included a performance and an interactive session with children). Other venues included the local cinema, (offered a free, morning film session) and community venues, where creative arts activities were offered.
Each session also incorporated time for parents to sit and just ‘be’, where mutual support developed naturally and friendships formed. Activities specifically for parents were offered too, such as yoga sessions, activities where parents and children could be together, such as bushcraft. We encouraged parents to take the opportunity to leave their children at Stay & Play and have time to themselves.
Understandably it has been difficult to do things as a family, and for the parents to have quality time with their other 2 children, daughters aged 8 and 10. The oldest child is also being assessed for ADHD, placing the family under additional pressure. Mrs L was identified through our Carer Support activity and invited to attend the Stay & Play sessions, both to help her meet other carers and to provide a safe environment for the children to interact with others.
There are no other family members within easy reach so Mrs L can feel very isolated in her role. At first reluctant, she and her husband were encouraged and supported to attend one session with the family, and had a great time. They have attended several different sessions taking part in activities together, and as individuals.
Mrs L said Stay & Play had given her and her family the opportunity to meet other families in similar situations and to make new friendships. She has said her children are now much more confident being with others and interacting with adults and children since they started attending Stay and Play. Since starting Stay & Play, Mrs L has developed the confidence to try occasional respite for her son, to help him get used to having different people involved in his care. This has allowed her time to herself, where she has been able to both recharge her batteries, and pick up on hobbies she previously enjoyed.
As a family, they feel more relaxed, and she feels less isolated and more likely to seek the company of others for herself, rather than focus entirely on her family. The family now has a circle of friends that they didn’t have before Stay and Play that they can turn to for support, company and encouragement.
The parents have said that this experience has made them realise that support is available for them both in the community and through other agencies and that they now feel more confident in accepting support than they were beforehand.
The family attended Stay & Play together, and in different combinations depending on the nature of the activity and their own availability. C took part in music sessions, outdoor activities, messy play and video gaming, and has been included by other children in general play. Previously C has been denied the opportunity to play with other children so this outcome, of being included by others, was a key milestone. R is thrilled that he has been able to have this significant experience, and coupled with increasing confidence as a result of the training course, she and her husband are considering all-ability holiday opportunities for the family in future.
R is clear that the opportunities presented through Stay & Play have given them inspiration to try new things, and the security of the group setting allowed them to develop a confidence that she feels would otherwise have been impossible to achieve.
The session also presented a challenge to Dreamtime Creative Arts, who hadn’t worked with children with additional needs before. Their feedback was that they very much enjoyed it, as did the families taking part, and as a result we were able to construct a second session, which used physical activity to help the children get to know each other, and offered an interactive demonstration of Makaton singing.
Dreamtime Creative Arts has talked of the benefits of delivering both sessions, which have offered learning points for them, including increased awareness of the short attention span of many children with additional needs, and the requirement to have a wide range of different activities and techniques to keep their interest. We plan to work with Dreamtime Creative Arts again, to benefit from their learning, and increase the numbers of families who take the opportunity to participate.
For Dreamtime Creative Arts their confidence in working with children with additional needs has increased substantially and it is exploring running its own sessions for children with additional support needs in the future.
What Quarriers has learnedAs a result of feedback from parents, we reduced the maximum numbers of children with additional needs able to attend each session. Some children had found the noise levels and general ‘buzz’ caused by large numbers difficult to cope with, which resulted in deterioration in behaviour and difficulties in maintaining engagement. Reducing the numbers meant we could target activity much more easily, ensuring children attending were able to participate effectively, and that parents were able to make the most of the break opportunity.
We also learned that parents like to see their children playing with other children and having fun just as other children do. This was one of the main reasons given by parents for not leaving their children at Stay and Play and going off to do something else. Having space at Stay and Play where parents could be separate from their children, but close enough to see them attempt something new or challenging, meant parents could have time with other parents, but not miss that moment when something notable happened with their child. Take-up of the programme increased consistently as the year progressed with the result that we occasionally had significant numbers of children participating (the highest at one event was 32).
We were delighted that 54 children with additional needs benefited from this work compared to an anticipated 30, and a total of 72 carers benefited, compared to an anticipated 45. We found that families did not attend every session, but this meant significantly higher numbers could be supported overall (as evidenced above).
The potential for family contacts outside of Stay and Play sessions increased, as families made their own arrangements to keep in touch, rather than rely on meeting up at the sessions as they couldn’t always be there. We experienced high numbers of children attending at first, which, on occasion led to heightened noise which in turn caused behaviour escalation for some children. This behaviour escalation was as a result of providing a service to children with more complex needs. Some parents told us that while their child was enjoying Stay and Play the increase in noise and the subsequent disruption was making it harder for their child to attend.
We have worked with more families than anticipated but have found that families have not attended every session. Families who have attended have been able to more quickly link into mutual and community support for their children with higher support needs than we anticipated so have not had to return to the Stay and Play because they have developed the confidence and support to engage in other activities with other families. This is a positive happening in terms of sustainability of the impact Stay and Play has had on some families. So while the numbers are lower than predicted we have dealt with children with more complex needs and supported families to move on more effectively.
Other reasons for not attending every session included, other family commitments, visiting with dad (single parent families), the activity on offer that session not appealing, a child had been ill and they didn’t want to spread infection, dad watching something on TV and not willing to bring them in (this was only reported afterwards, otherwise transport could have been arranged, and was on subsequent occasions).
Musical activities proved particularly popular, and an unexpected opportunity to work with the Scottish Ensemble not only thrilled the participants, but also the providers, who expressed an interest in doing more workshops with us in future. This has offered additional resource and taken our work into a wider sphere beyond Moray, which has been an unexpected benefit of the funding that could not have been foreseen. Similarly our work with Dreamtime Expressive Arts has increased that organisation’s understanding of the requirements for this particular group of families, thereby increasing local awareness and access to creative activity.