A story by Aberdeen Play Forum
To pilot a woodland play scheme for primary school-aged children with Higher Functioning ASD & their siblings – providing rich play opportunities for the children and respite for their carers.
The purpose of the project was to discover a way of providing a high quality service for children for whom existing services are unsuitable.
What Woodland Playscheme did
We did not receive enough funding to recruit staff specifically for the scheme, however we managed to work in partnership with VSA , Aberlour Futures, SensationALL and APF's own staff to provide staffing.
We offered places to families who had participated in interviews required to support our funding bid - these had been selected by VSA's Parent Support Worker who works with vulnerable families in the city.
We successfully ran: 2 x 3 day woodland free-play summer holiday play schemes for children with Higher Functioning ASD & their siblings in the wonderful woodland setting at VSA's Easter Anguston Farm, 4 woodland days for whole family, 2 at Easter Anguston Farm; 2 at APF's new woodland site in Hazelhead's Grove Nursery, 2 loose parts/games sessions to 2 play schemes for children with multiple support needs in their own settings.
In the woods children were supported to feel at ease, lead their own play & undertake basic 'bush-craft' activities in a woodland environment. Activities included collecting wood, lighting fires, cooking, searching for mini-beasts, nature-based art activities, climbing trees, general exploration and play.
During the 3 day schemes carers received respite to spend time with younger siblings whom they strongly desired to spend one-to-one time with and time to get jobs done or just relax, safe in the knowledge that their child was happy and safe. At the end of the day carers were able to spend quality time with their children who had attended the play scheme and returned happy having had fun, fresh air and exercise and eager to share their stories from that day - an unusual occurrence for many of the children.
During the family days carers and siblings were able to share in the activities and enjoy time with the whole family in a rare relaxed and understanding environment, in addition to meeting, getting to know and exchange contact details with parents in a similar position to themselves.
What Aberdeen Play Forum has learned
Our Organisation had never delivered a play scheme before or worked with a specifically targeted group of children with ASD before, so we learned a great deal in piloting this scheme. As a result we have developed more skills, greater confidence and also the materials required to run or support other organisations in running similar schemes in the future.
Challenges were signing children up – prior to the scheme staff made home visits to participating families in order to meet the children and develop 'Personal Passports' which helped to understand and plan for their needs. We were unprepared for the situation whereby some parents were so desperately in need of respite that they withheld, perhaps unintentionally, important information about their child. Staff therefore felt that, in future, information should be sought from other sources, for example a class teacher or social worker, in order to provide a fuller picture of the child’s needs.
Time/resource-pressures - the time between receipt of funding and delivery of project is tight for carrying out staff recruitment & training, signing-up children, making home visits, developing and obtaining relevant resources and planning the day-to-day running of the scheme, especially given that all staff involved already have full-time work commitments.
As a result we were unable to run as many play schemes as initially planned, however we were able to develop a plan which was deliverable and provided much needed support to children and their families. Now, having run a successful pilot, much of the resources and links have already been established, therefore the setting-up process for future schemes should run with greater ease.
Family Days - these were not part of our original plan, but feedback from families showed they were greatly enjoyed and played an important part in providing a positive experience for both children and their parents/carers.
Partnership working - we worked in partnership with Aberlour Futures’ SVQ Team, SensationALL Learning, Play Scotland and VSA; all working relationships were strengthened, in particular with VSA, with whom we now liaise on a regular basis.
Attracting new carers, families involved in the scheme have been desperate for the project to continue and have been anxiously awaiting word regarding funding for a scheme this summer, in addition we have been receiving requests by other families who have heard about the scheme. Unfortunately we were unsuccessful in securing funding to continue the project this year, however we are determined to find funding for 2016.
Once this has been secured we will be able to open the scheme up to more families. We also plan to further develop our family days – which have been a fantastic networking opportunity for parents/carers to meet others with a deep understanding of what it means to care for a child with ASD.