On a dark and stormy afternoon in 2013 Jean Marc and Emma left France behind and flew into the Bristol mist at Children’s Scrapstore on a fact finding mission….. They wanted to understand more about the process of introducing loose part play into primary schools and wanted to spend a week observing and questioning us to learn more about the idea of replicating Scrapstore PlayPods back home.
It so happened I was training some playworkers that Monday evening so we all headed over together to the training venue discussing on the way. Both Jean Marc and Emma spoke good English but I wasn’t too sure how much they would get from this observation…. I do tend to get a bit over excited when I’m training, jump around a lot, and use a lot of anecdotes and stories to support concepts and theories, which may get lost in translation, I feared. On the way back I asked them how they found it. Emma simply said: “you speak very quickly”
Over the course of the week they worked tirelessly with our team…. observing Scrapstore PlayPods in action, training sessions in schools and asked a lot of questions about virtually everything loose part related. Initially it felt strange to be “watched on the job” for a week but as we waved them off on Friday we had grown accustomed to it enjoying the process. We all wondered what would come of this trip and whether we would see them ever again?
We didn't have to wait long! Incredibly within 6 months Jean Marc and Emma had not only formed a association called Jouer Pour Vivre but had successfully crowd funded for a pilot of Boite a Jouer (aka PlayPods) in two primary schools, one in Die, Emma's home town and the other in Paris in a school called Virtruve. The videos below show a computer generated idea of a Boite a Jouer and different people from Vitruve discussing what impact the Boite a Jouer has had on their school.
Scrapstore Play Services involvement was mainly based at the beginning of the project. To begin with we visited all the potential sites identified for the pilots of the loose parts. In France this involved visiting two primary schools and a leisure centre (after school provision), In Spain this consisted of one nursery to measure the play value. The process involves assessing school playgrounds adapting existing assessment models that enables schools to make considered choices about the development of their school grounds. After our site visits we created a baseline report: Diagnosis of Play Settings
Once sites had been agreed and we had supported with the collection and suitability of the loose parts we then hosted a five day training event in Paris focussing on concepts and theories for supporting play and playwork. This was interesting as the term playwork or playworker doesn’t really exist in Spain or France so it was like teaching an additional new language on top of the three languages already being spoken! It contained similar elements of the training for lunchtime staff we deliver in the UK, which the partners all found useful for the development of the project and supporting the notion of playwork in France and Spain.
In May 2016 after all the necessary planning, gathering of loose parts, training and shed building the PlayPods or loose parts sheds opened in the respective schools and nursery. We went to visit Ecole Wurtz (a primary school for 250 children ) in Paris twice after Boite a Jouer opened. Even though I have been opening PlayPods for the last seven years I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but on arrival to the playground, I may as well have been in the UK ….it looked like a PlayPod, sounded like a PlayPod and even smelled like PlayPod!
I felt strangely proud at this moment on the playground…. the notion of a simple idea being replicated so seamlessly in another place and context. Even though I couldn’t take credit for the work…. Just watching the chaotic joy and noise that loose parts was bringing to this school was brilliant! The children loved it and even the staff loved it! Valerie the lead animateur for came up to us and said.
“We used to dread opening the Boite a Jouer but now we dread not opening it!”
It was fascinating and reassuring to see how the project had so many similarities and successes to the English model. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the partners for their contributions and success in delivering this exciting project and hope that these positive early steps will set the foundations for more children to experience high quality play opportunities in schools across Europe. Well done all!
The final report looks at the findings from the synthesis from both countries and makes for an interesting read: Findings Report
As the project came to a close Jouer Pour Vivre surprised us yet again.. moving up a gear by winning a government contract to deliver no less than ten Boites a Jouer in Paris over the next two years!
I’m not quite sure what the next few years will bring to loose parts play in Europe….but if the last few are anything to go by its definitely going places!