Written by Fuzz Dix

Fuzz Dix is Families Pastor at St Luke’s Millwall and has been a Kids Matter facilitator for 10 years. She is currently undertaking post-graduate research in Practical Theology and this autumn will begin her PhD titled ‘Parents and Poverty: The Place of the Church in the Margins.’

The Power of Play

‘So it’s never just playing…’

Any parent or facilitator who knows Kids Matter will be familiar with that line from Session 3 of the programme, as part of a discussion about the importance of children playing, and us as parents playing with our children.

Here at St Luke’s we’ve been running Kids Matter since its inception, with a couple of hundred local families, and so play has become a theme that we have developed in our wider Families Ministry, impacted by the Kids Matter research and training. As a result, it is so woven in to our DNA that we have just been awarded funding by my sons’ favourite ever brand, LEGO, in partnership with Save the Children, to run a summer of play sessions for our local families, as part of global research they are conducting about how children play today.

The research project is called The Power of Play, and our church is commissioned with working with 10 local families to co-design a summer of play opportunities for children and their parents. I was particularly excited to apply because several years ago the Lord lit a flame in my heart for this when a Kids Matter mum, parenting alone in difficult circumstances, said to me that she was looking for activities outside the home that she could do with her child – and all she could find was an expensive pottery workshop miles away. Since then our church has run regular Family Creative Craft Days in school holidays, where families come to work on creative projects together – parents playing with the children – and they love it. Sometimes the parents start off by keeping their coats on, checking their phones, and not engaging, but with a bit of encouragement it’s not long before they are getting as involved as their children, hunting for the ideal Lego brick or sellotaping together a junk-modelled dragonfly with delight.

It’s been a joy to run these family days, because we know that playing is important for so many reasons – emotional and social development, building resilience for life, building bonds between parents and children, and having fun – and yet it doesn’t take a global research project to tell us that since the arrival of the internet and the smart phone, children are playing less. Play is becoming a lost art, with parents struggling to prise screens out of their children’s hands, let alone leave them in a state where they are feeling playful rather than furious. This has a huge impact on parents’ confidence and ability to introduce playful activities, even if they have enough time and energy to do so.

Yet the Kids Matter training that inspires me to keep encouraging our local parents to keep pursuing play with their kids, comes from research in the social sciences that says that the biggest single factor of alleviating the impact of poverty on children is a positive relationship with their parents – and where better can that relationship be forged and strengthened, than through playing together?

So I’m excited that we can invite more families into a space where play opportunities are provided, distractions of home life are set aside, mess is kept out of their home, and they and their children have the time to enjoy each other as they play together.

And even better is the opportunity to involve 10 local families (mostly Kids Matter graduates!) in the planning of these sessions – taking the lead from their experience, desire and wisdom. Over my 24 years as Families Pastor I’ve come to appreciate more and more the value in learning from our local parents, and we have seen wonderful examples of mums and dads growing in confidence and taking on roles of leadership and serving. My current theological research indicates that this is a biblical model which brings real richness in to community life. Isaiah 61 speaks of those who receive God’s blessing in their lives – ‘beauty from ashes, gladness from despair, joy instead of mourning’ – and describes how they are then those who ‘rebuild the ancient ruins, and restore the places long forgotten.’ (v 2,4). In our context we see the reality of lives that come and experience the good news of the gospel, and receive God’s healing, becoming the lives that then rebuild and share that good news with others.

Play itself is beginning to feel like something which could soon be long forgotten and so we are delighted to work with local parents to see it become restored in the lives of families around us. And Lego offers a visual demonstration of this – brick by brick, parent by parent, child by child, rebuilding can happen, hope is restored, families are strengthened.

That’s the power of play.

If you would like to find out more about Kids Matter, to talk about partnering with us or find out more about our programmes, then we’d love to hear from you. Email us at info@kidsmatter.org.uk

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