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.
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
“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.
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!