A play scheme is a planned programme of recreational activities for children outside of school. They usually run during school holidays and are centred around a designated 'base' which is available for the exclusive use of the group.
Play schemes usually consist of a large group of children of a similar age, disability range or who are under the same circumstances, for example, those whose parents have recently divorced.
Play schemes are usually run by a play leader, an assistant play leader and a number of volunteers who are recruited from the local community. If the children are disabled or have special needs it might be a good idea to have enough volunteers to work on a one to one basis with them.
The base should be a building such as a community centre or a school hall which can be used as a regular meeting place for parents to drop off and collect their children each day, a storage place for toys, games and other equipment, a main point of emergency contact and an indoor activity centre.
Ideally, the base should have separate male, female and disabled access (if necessary) toilet and washing facilities with clearly labelled 'hot' and 'cold' taps. If you are lucky, the owners of the base will provide the group with the provision of soap, toilet roll and paper towels/hand drying facilities. However, be prepared to provide the group with your own.
In addition, it is advantageous to have use of a kitchen to prepare and store food and drink, a large hall for main activities, tables and chairs for meals times and arts and crafts activities. Though it should be noted that all equipment in eating areas should be cleaned thoroughly before using it for meal times. Also, it is good to have a separate room for meal times to avoid accidents because children are often messy eaters and drop food on the floor. This can lead to people slipping and hurting themselves. This room can also be converted to a quiet area for sick or distressed children.
Children often enjoy playing outside, so it is useful to have access to a grassed and/or concrete area. However, when dealing with young children this area should be completely enclosed to prevent uninvited persons entering and children leaving. Also, it is advisable to keep children away from car parking areas to avoid accidents.
Why Run Play Schemes and What Types of Play Schemes to Run?
Play schemes run for various reasons and cater for children with a variety of needs and abilities. The main objective of play schemes is to offer children something exciting, stimulating and different to do during the long summer holidays. However, different organisations have different motives.
Play Schemes for Disabled Children
When a child is born with a disability it can significantly change the way a family operates. Everybody is affected in some way or other and often a massive amount of time has to be devoted to the child. This can result in siblings and partners feeling neglected and a huge strain can be placed on relationships. Therefore, parents frequently benefit from an organisation who can provide them with a break from the disabled child in the form of a play scheme.
Volunteers and/or paid staff are recruited to organise and run the scheme for several days per week and are trained to administer medication and first aid. They are well equipped to take care of a large group of children with a range of disabilities and are able to support them at lunch time without parents having to worry. Play schemes often become a form of childcare provision and allow parents to spend time together and with other siblings, and allows them to take part in other activities which would be unsuitable for small children in the four to seven age range.
Themed Play Schemes
It is often fun to centre play schemes around a theme such as sports or a murder mystery. In this instance, all activities can be related to the theme and staff, children and volunteers can come in fancy dress and face paint. It may be possible to run a sports play scheme in a local recreation centre where the children can make full use of their resources and equipment. However, this could be quite expensive to hire out. Some councils employ staff to organise and run play schemes for children in local recreation centres at a small cost to the children attending.
Integrated Play Schemes
This type of play scheme involves mixing or integrating disabled children with able-bodied children and is also referred to as 'inclusive play scheme'. This type of play scheme is often run at nurseries for younger children or at play schemes which are already being run by other organisations. The advantages of integrated or inclusive play schemes are that disabled children do not feel separated from able-bodied children since everybody is encouraged to take part in the same activities, though disabled children are often supported on a one to one basis by a volunteer. Additionally, equal opportunities can be promoted and able-bodied children can become aware that some children have different abilities.
Organising the Play Scheme
If the play scheme is to be a success it needs to be sufficiently advertised otherwise people will not know about it and will not attend. The organisation can be made familiar, for example, by placing posters in local shop windows, posting leaflets through doors or by placing an advert in the local newspaper. This will promote your play scheme and notify parents of what activities are available for their children in the local community. Remember to supply an address/phone number/e-mail address for parents to contact the organisers to register their child on the activities. Then, when parents contact you, take their address and phone number in order to forward further details of the play scheme to them.
Further, when you send more information, it is a good idea to devise a child information form which gives information about emergency contact numbers and addresses, any medical conditions, such as, asthma or epilepsy and any medication which may need to be administered to the child during the play scheme. This information can be filed safely and confidentially.
Specific Information For Disabled Children
If a child has a disability, their speech may be impaired and subsequently they may use a form of communication, such as BSL (British Sign Language), Makaton or Picture Exchange, which may be unfamiliar to staff and volunteers. Therefore, it is necessary to obtain information about their form of communication from parents. In addition, it may be necessary to obtain information about any other provision which would need to be made for particular children in relation to meal times, toilet time and transportation.
This is the fun part but must be carefully considered, taking into account the age, ability, religious and cultural beliefs of the children and, most importantly, the health and safety of facilities, children, staff and volunteers.
Some activities at popular venues may need pre-booking which can usually be done over the telephone. However, if it is a place that you are unfamiliar with, you may prefer to visit it first to ensure that it is suitable.
When you have devised a programme of events and activities, it is a good idea to send a copy to all children and volunteers so that they are aware of what is happening each day and can arrive appropriately dressed and with the correct things, such as their swimming kit. This also gives children the opportunity to opt out of various activities and only attend on certain days.
Other Points To Consider
It is a legal requirement to carry out risk assessments on all children and venues to be visited. This task should be undertaken in the presence of the parents or manager of the venue (for example, by making an appointment to visit them at home) and should be in the form of a legal document which clearly shows the risk, such as a tendency for a child to run off, the frequency that the risk occurs and the action to be taken to limit or prevent the risk. This documentation should be filed safely with the child's information form.
All accidents ranging from a bump on the head to a severe injury should be recorded along with the person, if any, who witnessed the accident, the date and time it happened and the first aid measures carried out by staff or volunteers. All forms should be filed safely and separately from other information about children. It should be noted that epileptic fits and asthma attacks are not accidents but could become one. Both should be recorded and filed, however, on different forms to accident forms. If, due to such an incident, a child injures themselves, it would become necessary to fill in an accident form.