Support For Parents - STAY AND PLAY

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“Stay and Play” is an 8-week course for parents with younger children (up to 5 years).  These days, unlike in the past, most of us parents are bringing up our children on our own with few people to turn to. 

The course is designed to be fun as well as providing a place for parents to learn from the course material and from each other.  Parents get reassurance from other parents. 

In the last few years we have found out that the early years for children are crucial for their development, so “Stay and Play” aims to encourage parents with a range of ideas on bringing their children on in their development. 

Young children learn a lot from play and from doing things with us parents.  We will get a lot of ideas on how children grow, on communication, and the different things we can do with our children that will help their development and for us to enjoy being with our children—we can learn a lot from our own children! 

Each session lasts 2 hours.  For the first 1¼ we parents will talk together, while the children are in their own group.  Then everyone will meet up and there will be a play session for ½ an hour.  The last ¼ hour will be us singing.  We hope parents will try out the ideas at home, and share ideas that work with other parents. 

Although not a specific aim, parents have found the course helps with the children’s behaviour.  Below is an article we wrote after the first course was run. 

The course aims to:

·         Share ideas on the importance of play for young children for their development

·         Share ideas for play

·         Build self-confidence in parents

·         Build parent-child relationships so they can have more fun together

·         Build parents listening skills with young children 

The programme looks like this:

Week 1----------------------------------Play—how children learn

Week 2----------------------------------Play—how we parents can help

Week 3----------------------------------Communication (1)

Week 4----------------------------------Communication (2)

Week 5----------------------------------Encouragement

Week 6----------------------------------Movement is a must!

Week 7----------------------------------Music and learning

Week 8----------------------------------What have we learned?

Who is the course for?

Any parent with a child under 5 years. 

Where do the courses run?

The courses run all over West Lothian, mainly in Community Centres, although one or two Early Years Centres are running the course.  The course is free, and transport may be available.



Play is recognised as an essential to children’s growth and development.  And the role of parents is clearly vital.  But should parents let their children get on with it?  Do everyday activities count as play opportunities?  Is it OK to be “silly” and play when you are an adult?  Did we have enough opportunities to play when we were children?  These and other factors can get in the way of parents feeling comfortable in engaging with their children in play, and learning to have fun together. 

This article describes a course called “Stay and Play” which was delivered to a group of parents in an effort to address these issues.  It was developed to encourage parents to play more with their children (aged 0-3 years) and to be more conscious about the role of the parent in their children’s development.   

Stay and Play

"Stay and Play” runs for 8 weeks, each session lasting 2 hours.  The first hour and 40 minutes is spent on group work with the parents while the children are in their creche.  For the last 20 minutes there is a play session, where parents get a chance to try out the ideas with their children.  At the very end, we sing songs.  Each week, parents get a pack with “worksheets”, handouts and suggestions for things to try at home to do with the topic.  They also get printed versions of the songs we sing. 

Input includes group exercises, role-plays and questions for discussion, and is designed to build on and “remind” parents about their positive practices.  It depends for ethos on the idea that parents are experts on their own children, and that they are more likely to learn from each other, than from a “professional expert”.  There is a high experiential element to the course, and some opportunities to reflect on the parents’ own childhood experiences. 

The aims of the course are: to encourage parents to see the world more from the child’s point of view—to become more child centred: to increase parental awareness of the role parents have in teaching children about the world.  This involves building on what parents have done and encouraging an increased consciousness about what they are doing (so they can do more of it!). 

Each parent is given a folder for the course content, which consists of worksheets (a sort of “agenda” for the session), ideas for play at home, and handouts on child development and other aspects relevant to the topic of the day. 

The programme looks like this:

Week 1                       How children learn.  Introductions, input on play and a sharing of experiences of being played with as a child.

Week 2                       How we parents can help—which looks at children’s development, and what parents can do to help this development, focusing on everyday activities, but also on the benefits of some toys.

Week 3                       Communication (1) which looks at how we communicate with and acknowledge our children, using listening skills.

Week 4                       Communication (2) which continues from last week and adds in a way of playing with children called “attending”.

Week 5                       Encouragement, which looks at how parents can encourage the children so as to build resilience.

Week 6                      Movement is a must—which looks at how movement encourages development in children, together with having fun.  It looks at both fine and gross motor development.

Week 7                       Music---looks at how music assists with development and how we can have fun with children.

Week 8                       What have we learned? This evaluates learning and looks at what parents might like to do next.


How the course ran

The course was run at Knightsridge Early Years Centre, (a Nursery School in Livingston), by Sure Start West Lothian and staff from the Centre. 

10 mothers were invited to attend, of whom 8 attended.  One parent dropped out after the first week.  Of the remaining 7, attendance was 86%. 

Parents were recruited from an area of relatively high need.  4 of the parents were in contact with Social Work, while a fifth had a child attending a psychologist because of severe tantrums. 

Some parents wanted help with the behaviour of the children (tantrums, destructiveness).  Others wanted ideas on occupying their children, and how to divide their attention between more than one young child.  They wanted to feel more in control, to be able to shout less, and to find ways of encouraging their children, and to be able to help children’s fears better.  In summary, parents wanted the behaviour of the children to change.  At the same time, some parents had clearly reflected on their parenting and wanted to find different ways of relating to their children. 

The parents’ expectations of a “course” harked back to memories of their own school days, and they said, at the end of session 1, that they had expected “a lecture from some guy”.  They had been pleasantly surprised they had had a chance to talk and share ideas, that their ideas were valued. 

The group gelled well from the start.  They joined in all the experiential exercises and role-plays, and generated a lot of ideas and support for each other.  There was an expectation that the parents treat the course as running 7 days a week, not just on a Thursday afternoon, and parents responded to this.  They all tried the things to do at home, which were mainly trying out play ideas with their children.  

The play at the end of each session went very well, and we all sang songs at the end.  Play sessions included playing with “gloop” (cornflower and water), playdough, making rattles, etc. 

Although the play sessions ran for only for the last 20 minutes of each week, they assumed a real importance for the parents, as it offered ideas for play and a chance to try out the ideas with their children.  It was very encouraging to hear about how the past week had gone with play ideas at the start of each session.  It was also encouraging to see the progress of each child through the course.


Parents participated well, and this reflected their satisfaction with the course.  Some parents had assumed children knew how to play, while others realised “how much a child has to learn to do things we (parents) consider easy”.  The exercise, for instance on dressing, was an eye opener for parents.  They were asked to put on and button a shirt while wearing gloves.  This sort of experiential work enhanced parental understanding of the child’s world—that it was not easy to accomplish tasks which we adults take for granted. 

In general parents learned to enjoy spending time with their children, and this meant they got on better, so the child could be seen much more positively.  So parents started to see the world from the children’s point of view, therefore developing an understanding of the child as a person.  To some parents’ surprise and satisfaction, this greatly assisted with behaviour issues such as tantrums, destructiveness, although behaviour management was not a focus of the course.  Parents seemed to feel more confident, and were conscious that the development of parent/child relationships helped a lot. 

Parents’ listening skills improved, and all reported playing regularly with their children, enjoying this play, and understanding the value of this play for their children’s development.  While parents were sorely tempted to “take over” doing a puzzle, they managed to restrain themselves, and thereby learned more about their children. 

There were improvements in parental self-confidence, patience (so parents were conscious of not shouting so much), assertive skills, and in an overall improvement in parental attitude to the children. 

In week 8, parents said that they had learned a lot and that they were very pleased with the things they had learned, mainly because “we taught ourselves”.   

Relationships had improved through more understanding of the child, so parents were more patient with their children.  For instance, one parent now saw her child’s behaviour as resulting from fear (of trying something new, for instance, due to a lack of confidence) rather than from defiance, so the mother had learned not to remonstrate, but to find ways of being encouraging. 

In essence, parents could see that playing with the child gave the child the attention needed, so the child was happier, and so behaviour improved.  Here parents appreciated their own role in promoting the relationship through play and doing things with the child. 

Handouts were provided on child development, ideas for play, and encouraging the child, and parents reported they had enjoyed having these, as they were readable and useful and a reference for reminders. 


This is a simple course involving discussion, and experiential exercises on aspects of play, backed by practical play with the children at the end of each session.  It was fun for the parents and the facilitators, and the children enjoyed the play as well. 

The course offers opportunities for parents to challenge their own attitudes to play, and to find ways to have more fun with their children. 

For some parents there were limited opportunities to play as a child, and this can lead to some uncertainty about how to play now with their child.  For some a willingness to play with their children can engender a sort of jealousy of their children who benefit from play with their parents, which the parents’ themselves did not get.  Yet other parents take the view that now they are adults, it is important not to be “silly”, and engage in play.  Finally parents do not always appreciate all the learning opportunities they are providing anyway for their children.  The course aims to make parents more conscious about what they are doing as well as things they can build on from the course. 

Results were very positive, both in terms of the parents’ appreciation of the value of play for children’s development, and in terms of improvements in parent child interactions, such that both parent and child seemed to grow in confidence.   

Stay and Play has similar aims to the “Learning Together”/PEEP courses, but is able to offer a time-limited learning opportunity that seems to work well.  As such it has a role in the overall delivery of support services for parents.  

John Rogers, Sure Start.
Shirley Keast, Knightsridge Early Years Centre.

Related Documentation:

  Handout document for "Stay And Play"