Mindsets and Missions
What was it about?
In January we were delighted to learn that Helen had gained a place on the Mindsets + Missions Learning Programme as an individual representing a community organisation- Wolves Play Cafe!
Mindsets + Missions is a new learning and grants programme, funded by UK Research and Innovation, which supports museums and science centres to engage underrepresented groups with knowledge, research and innovation.
The whole team were excited to have the opportunity to engage with larger organisations including museums and science centres from across the U.K.
What did it involve?
The programme was well-facilitated, beginning with an in-person programme launch day in Leeds. During the day we worked in groups with activities and discussions to find common ground, common goals and common challenges to our goals. The activities included a range of practical and participatory tasks, one of which took us outside for half an hour in the snowy blast that crossed the UK in early March!
Back inside...all dry and warm!...the discussions were in groups small enough to allow everyone the chance to have a voice in the conversations. It was so encouraging to be working alongside people from larger organisations that found similar challenges and barriers to achieving their goals as smaller organisations. We found that we shared similar aims and goals in the desire to help ensure museums, science centres and research projects of the future to be relevant, important to and accessible to the widest possible audiences.
The next week, and for three weeks, the programme was taken online with twice weekly 90 minute sessions. Each session included a presentation by people who had developed innovative and successful ways to engage, encourage and truly listen to their present and new audiences not only in the U.K. but from right across the World. These were fascinating and informative presentations, inspiring ideas for the programme participants’ discussions which followed each presentation.
The conversations carried on after the sessions through a specially devised digital platform where all the participants were invited to share their good practices, relevant information and areas of expertise.
What happens next?
Towards the end of the month-long programme innovative ideas, new networks and partnerships were beginning to evolve and the members of the cohort were invited to apply for funding of up to £75k to deliver projects for the second phase of the programme.
The projects can be as innovative, ground-breaking and experimental as participants’ ideas, dreams and ambitions allow, exploring new ways of bringing science, research and community engagement in these areas to the widest possible audiences, especially those from under-represented groups across the whole of the U.K.
As this is the pilot programme to developing new approaches to traditional research pathways, at present Wolves Play Café are not planning to apply to lead a project for the next phase of the programme, but as a trailblazing start, we hope that by being part of these new networks we can take part in future projects as leaders and/or participants. We also plan to use the ideas, inspiration and information gained by taking part in the pilot programme to enhance our own approaches to audience collaboration, engagement and gathering the views of individual voices to improve our own practice and offers.
Who are UK Research and Innovation?
Mindsets + Missions is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). It is a key part of UKRI’s mission to break down the barriers between research, innovation and society. UKRI is providing a total of £750k for this programme, delivered by a partnership of the Museums Association, The Liminal Space and the Association for Science and Discovery Centres.
This project focusses on introducing kids under 5 years old to the field of ecology through hands-on, outdoor activities. I believe this initiative has a great potential to develop scientific thinking in kids and their caregivers within an urban context. The proposal has clear objectives, methods and evaluation endpoints, thus I believe there is a good chance of success. " BES Review College, May 2022
What kind of activities did we enjoy?
The session activities were themed to ecological topics such as habitats, weather, recycling and plant growth enabling young children to explore early scientific enquiry skills and simple natural science knowledge through play. There was also space for caregivers to share stories, have a much-welcomed cuppa and explore the varied themes and activities alongside their little one.
How can I join in?
Thanks to support from Gatis Community Space and their National Lottery Community Funding, we are able to continue to develop and deliver these fun sessions in Spring 2023 through Wolves in the Woods.
Come and join us exploring the world around us - book your space now here!
The grant from British Ecological Society (BES) made it possible for these important and fun outdoor play opportunities to be delivered for little ones and their big ones in our city. We were encouraged that BES could see the value of the project and that they were confident in the project's potential to successfully promote ecology to all ages and support our world. Thank you BES for supporting the success of this project to help grow a robust and innovative science cultural capital in our city."
We are so grateful to the funding that made the project possible from:
About British Ecological Society:
We were established in 1913 and have been fostering the science of ecology ever since. Our vision is for nature and people to thrive in a world inspired by ecology.
Play in the Park!
Play Across the City
Such a lovely session. Great to be outdoors, in a safe environment for play. Good range of open ended play equipment to stimulate children's creative thinking. Mix of age groups and parents/ carers attended. Children enjoyed playing together and adults had a nice opportunity to chat with other adults too. Very welcoming hosts. Have recommended to other friends and their children." Satty, August 2022
This year, drawing on feedback from play friends who had come along to play before, we delivered these sessions as drop-in between 10.00 and 2.00pm through August 2022 so that there was a time to suit everyone's routine and schedule. For the final play session, with support from Active Black Country, we were able to partner with the Dr Bike team who brought along the opportunity to celebrate the location of the Commonwealth Games Cycling Trials at West Park including balance bikes for little ones and smoothie bikes for big ones!
Wolves Play Café and the local families of the parks are very grateful and pleased with the successful Play in the Parks programme this summer. We will be back playing in Ward Street Park in April 2022 with support from Grantham Yorke Trust and would love to play again at West Park and Phoenix Park by securing further funding to ensure accessible play sessions for young children in the city can continue in the spring and summer school holidays to August 2023.
This would mean little ones and their caregivers can come and play again, we can see how much you've grown and hear your stories, helping to create long-term positive impacts and outcomes for physical and mental wellbeing in Wolverhampton.
If you would like to support the project, we'd love to talk to you at firstname.lastname@example.org
With gratitude to Grantham Yorke Trust and the below funders of August 2022's Play in the Parks Programme.
Helping little cubs explore the great outdoors!
We are celebrating inspiring over 500 under 7s to explore the great outdoors across our city thanks to our Wolves in the Woods project.
Thanks to generous funding from Millennium Point Trust, since 2019, Wolves Play Café have provided vital opportunities for 582 under 7s within Wolverhampton to explore the outdoors, develop skills such as problem-solving, natural science knowledge and support for 436 caregivers of under 7s with free and easy outdoor play ideas and the space to share important stories.
Investing in our city spaces
As well as delivering over 60 play sessions in peaceful wooded settings, across 3 years Wolves Play Café has provided over £8500 investment into two city spaces of Boundary Way Community Garden in Warstones and Gatis Community Space in Whitmore Reans, to create useable forest spaces for local children and their families in the heart of the city for years to come. Outdoor shelters and play resources such as wicker play dens, water wheels, pulleys and crawl-through tunnels have enhanced the play opportunities for under 7s in their local communities.
My boys thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful play session in the woods - they didn’t want to leave. The staff were friendly and attentive and the resources provided for the kids were amazing." Riz, Gatis Community Space, 2022
Over 80% of the attendees return to play more than once and caregivers have been keen to share how important the play and project is to them. Some attendees have since signed up for an allotment of their own, to support the next generation of gardeners and natural science enthusiasts.
‘My granddaughter who is 6 planted seeds and picked fresh vegetables and said ‘it’s one of the best places I’ve been!" Gail, Boundary Way, 2022
Learning and next steps
Nature Play Celebration Events are being held on Saturday 13th August at Gatis Community Space, as part of their Community Fun Day and Saturday 3rd September at Boundary Way Allotments. You can find out more and join in these, or how about bringing your little cubs to our next Wolves in the Woods sessions in September 2022, open for booking now!
We are so grateful for the investment and support of Millennium Point Trust in STEM opportunities in the West Midlands. Thanks to them, the Wolves in the Woods project has been able to make a real impact for little ones’ play opportunities and development in Wolverhampton. We can’t wait for our celebration events to share the fun we’ve been having." Lisa Stallard, Director at Wolves Play Cafe CIC
About the Funder
Millennium Point is an award-winning charitable trust dedicated to the promotion and development of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and education in the West Midlands region of the United Kingdom. For more information please visit www.millenniumpoint.org.uk.
The idea for an Outdoor Explorers project in All Saints was inspired by our successful outdoor play sessions that we had delivered there in Autumn 2020. Keeping in mind the restrictions and impact of Covid-19 coming out of lockdown, the outdoor sessions had lots of fresh air, space and individual resource baskets to play, with activities throughout the garden.
The 28 sessions were held across 14 weeks during the Spring and Autumn 2021. Big ones had opportunities to share stories and little ones had opportunities to play and learn from first-hand experiences in nature alongside their caregivers. The sessions were Pay As You Feel, with no minimum charge to join in, thanks to support from National Lottery Community Fund.
Getting the word out!
Play sessions were advertised through leafleting local Nurseries, social media posts and local Councillor for Ettingshall Beverley Momenabadi, email updates, posters in local shops, attending the All Saints Fun Day and running a stall with planting bulbs that can be taken home.
We welcomed 204 children and 164 adults to gather, explore, weave, dig, draw, stomp, build, plant, pick, identify, listen, sing, laugh and make friends through both rain and shine!
“We had so much fun today exploring outdoors. The mud kitchen was very messy and great for little imaginations to blossom. We loved exploring the plants and leaves with the microscopes to see what we could see. The wooden building area was a hit with my little boy as well. Will definitely go back, there wasn't too many people in our session which made me feel very comfortable. Thank you for a lovely afternoon.”
During the sessions we used accessible feedback methods such as pictorial surveys, reviews and chats to gain views, opinions and ideas from both children and adults.
We also have a Play Tester Team’ visiting sessions who used simple tools including ‘empathy maps’ to tell us about their experiences during Outdoor Explorers play sessions.
Our Learning and Future Plans
Conversations during the sessions between caregivers and staff and caregivers with each other, comments include:
“We’ve made a mud digging area in the garden” and “We’re planning our garden around the little one being able to be in the garden more with somewhere to do planting, digging and exploring”.
The participants also often mentioned that the informal ‘drop-in’ format of the sessions suited them well as they could fit a visit around other commitments like a school run, appointments and naps.
Going forwards we would like to secure support to continue to deliver these play sessions as Pay As You Feel during the spring and autumn of next year to build on the community links, friendship networks and fun and learning opportunities and experiences for adults and children.
Over the past two years we have invested time and funding in organising the layout and equipment available in the garden thanks to National Lottery Community Funding, as well as building community friends and word-of-mouth networks so will be in a position to deliver these fun and beneficial sessions to offer the best quality and value possible for the community...and we can't wait!
Why play outdoors?
As part of Covid-19 response, we listened to our play friends about where they felt safe, through online polls and conversations, hearing about how lots of little ones preferred to spread out and explore rather than being in one space, which is the alternative in lots of indoor play at the moment due to Covid-19 restrictions.
We therefore decided to further embrace the benefits and joys of outdoor play and ensure all play sessions through September and October 2020 were in the great outdoors. This is taken in line with scientific advice that rates of transmission are far lower outside in fresh air.
Thanks to remaining National Lottery Community Funding from 2019-2020 where we were unable to play through lockdown (number 1!) and Millennium Point Trust support in 2020-2021, all of these sessions were funded and so could be accessible as Pay As You Feel.
We were able to play across the city in three locations:
Benefits of outdoor play from research
Less conflicts occur during outdoor play and children tend to cooperate more with each other…During outdoor play, children become teachers and learners, sharing their knowledge and skills to accomplish different tasks or challenges…adults recognized that they felt more available to support children outside, where they felt relaxed and calm.’
We had great moments outdoors and learning opportunities all around us, with a short story and song to start with, lightly themed to the outdoors. We carefully observed (but didn't touch!) fantastic fungi, we balanced, built, experimented, explored, investigated, cooked delicious mud pies and more! Each week had the same play areas, so little ones were familiar and confident in their surroundings, but with slightly different activities as well available such as making natural art in stick frames, a bear I-spy hunt, topping up bird feeders and bulb planting.
Happy Stories and Feedback
Had a really good time at the play cafe today. A lovely hidden garden and the ladies who run it are very friendly. Thanks for having us today."
‘There was a secured gate staff could open as we was greeted. Soon as you come into the area there is a safe cleaning station for hand washing and anti gel. A lovely and warm welcome introduction from lovely staff. It was a safe and wonderful inviting space for the children, parents and carers...there is so so much the children can gain from this and adults under the circumstances with COVID. It’s all cleaned and just a safe and secure space with staff keeping on top of the cleaning. We are looking forward to coming back here.’
Favourite activities chosen by little ones!
"Lots of different outdoor zones for children to explore and use their imagination.. Using the lovely little bags given us upon our arrival with different objects to explore and use within the outdoor space and zones i.e digging, water play mud kitchen. Using child friendly spades, sticks, rake, sieves, chalks and many other resources for children to use safely and securely with adult supervision on some activities in the environment. "
You can join our outdoor play from January 2021 by coming along to our monthly Wolves in the Woods sessions at Gatis Community Space, supported by Millennium Point Trust.
We hope to be able to continue even more outdoor sessions in the Spring! Sign up to our newsletter here to be the first to hear when sessions open.
Introducing play at home packs
Wow Mummy! Look it's amazing!"
Playing at Home
Developing Play Packs
The packs are eco-friendly and have beautiful books, ideas and play resources developed carefully by Helen, our experienced Early Years Specialist. They’re based on our most popular play sessions and initially we’ve created four different themes – Dinosaur Safari, Jungle Boogie, Marvellous Minibeasts and How Does Your Garden Grow? Each pack is aimed at little ones 2+ filled with fun, open-ended activities, play resources, nursery rhymes and two beautiful books; one storybook and one fantastic factbook.
Thanks to a grant from James Beattie Charitable Trust and the Rotary Club of City of Wolverhampton and by working in partnership with Low Hill Nursery School, we have been able to develop and distribute 20 Play At Home Packs to families for free. Low Hill Nursery School have recently registered a charity to support families in the area called Every Family Counts and so we look forward to possibilities of working together again in the future in other playful ways!
Testing them out!
We want to make sure the packs meet the aims of:
So four families play tested the packs out to help us tweak and make even better! Thanks to their great and useful feedback, we are confident that they are meeting the aims we set out above.
It’s great just being told what to do for an afternoon than trying to think of yourself…we had fun doing the activities and it engaged us for a few days!"
As well as distributing 20 free packs thanks to the grant, the packs are also available to purchase on our new online shop!
The shop has a range of play products selected to support play at home, are fun or great as gifts with postage and packaging included. Sustainability is really important to us and so all of the packaging is 100% recyclable. 😊
What’s even better is all play purchases on our shop will help invest into Wolves Play Café, as we are a not-for-profit organisation, enabling us to delivery accessible play across the city and through this hope to be able to support more families with free Play At Home packs in the future.
You can browse play products here: www.wolvesplaycafe.org/shop
The World Around Us
“It’s great for us, as Mordekai gets the chance to play with other toddlers and I get an opportunity to interact with other mums”
Thanks to a grant from Millennium Point Trust our monthly Under 5s play sessions The World Around Us started in September 2019 and will run until July 2020.
It’s Pay As You Feel by being supported by Millennium Point Small Grants scheme and each month has a different science-based theme to spark curiosity in little ones with varied high-quality play opportunities.
What is the World Around Us about?
We’ve had varied themes for under 5s and their caregivers to explore science, technology, maths and engineering (STEM) through play activities, stories and rhymes, including Ice, Autumn and Night Animals.
At Wolves Play Café, children are leaders of their learning. Our Early Years Specialist has over 20 years in Early Years settings and as Science Co-ordinator in EYFS and KS1. Using this experience, activities are designed to encourage curiosity and use children’s ideas to extend their own playing and learning.
Our aim is to engage with 100 under 5s in the World Around Us between September 2019 and July 2020 and it’s great that we’ve been able to welcome over 50 already in just 4 sessions! Lots of people have been to more than one session which is brilliant so little ones and their big ones can become familiar with the sessions, explore different themes each time they play and therefore build STEM experiences each time.
How does the World Around Us support STEM in Early Years?
The use of language, questioning and commenting by facilitators and caregivers develops an awareness of scientific and technical vocabulary from an early age. We do this in World Around Us sessions through stories and rhymes in a short group time gathered together.
Open ended resources are available throughout the sessions. These resources promote curiosity and creative thinking, for example loose parts, sensory trays and magnifying glasses.
At each session to show how play activities support under 5s development, there are ideas of questions to ask, posters with learning intentions and Take Home cards to carry on the playing at home.
Fun, Food and friendly faces
Building Wolves Play Cafe
With a whole host of enthusiasm, excitement and support from the Midlands School of Social Entrepreneurs Start-Up Course, we approached two city spaces to host our pilot play sessions for Wolves Play Café in December 2018.
With massive thanks and partnership of Gatis Community Space and Light House Cinema and Café Bar, from February to July 2019 we delivered 18 pilot play sessions to talk and listen to caregivers of under 5s in our city, test out play ideas and see what children and their caregivers want! As these were our first ever play sessions, we decided to opt for Pay As You Feel pricing, with suggested donation of £2 or a purchase of a refreshment.
What did we do?
We delivered Play and Stay sessions from 10.00 -12.00 led by an Early Years Specialist with over twenty years of experience teaching and leading in Early Years settings in Wolverhampton. Each session having a theme linked to a short picture book, songs, rhymes and fun, play based activities.
Initially we planned to run sessions each week for 8 weeks, and we were so happy when our playmates wanted to come and join us for more! So we added some extra pilot sessions from April to July.
Gatis Community Space
We delivered 9 play sessions here from February to July 2019. It’s great that there is a Bump To Boob breastfeeding support group running at the same time. By the last three sessions we had between 10 and 16 children each time! Perfect for 1-1 interaction but also opportunities to make new playmate friends.
For my older son he’s nearly three so he loved the outdoor spaces here, so the water garden and the other adventure playground he really, really loved" Miranda
Light House Cinema and Cafe Bar
We delivered 9 play sessions here from February to July 2019, with over 80 caregivers and almost 100 under 5s attending in total. With the fantastic support and popularity of the venue they booked up quickly from the start.
I quite like that you’re relaxed and you have different ages"
By working with Gatis we were able to access a small seed fund from Power To Change. This enabled us to invest in more resources, extend our pilot sessions and deliver a consultation celebration session at the end.
We wanted to celebrate the close of the pilot and learn about refreshment choices that caregivers and little ones look for. More importantly we wanted to have a chat about why you would come to a Wolves Play Café play session.
We provided a voucher for each caregiver to redeem for refreshments and some pictoral large menus to put preferences. Love ‘n’ Peas, Gatis Community Space’s kitchen, developed a Toddler Menu to trial alongside the session.
We know that it’s not easy to sit down for long when you’ve got little ones to keep an eye on, so this meant we could easily chat. To find out why caregivers go to a play session and what they think of our pilot sessions, we decided to just have a good old natter!
Every caregiver who we had a chat with or gave some feedback was entered into a prize draw to win a family ticket to Thinktank.
Here is what we learnt from our playmates!