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every child has the right to play

National Play Day takes place this this week. As well as a celebration of children’s right to play, Play Day is a campaign that highlights the importance of play in children’s lives. Jemma Tudor is a play practitioner at Tŷ Hafan, the children’s hospice in Wales, where children with life-limiting conditions and their families are offered care, comfort and support. She works in partnership with fellow play practitioner Mags Butler. Here, Jemma explains why children of all abilities have the right to play and why she and Mags will be helping Tŷ Hafan’s children to celebrate National Play Day.

“Play is a right for every child and is one of the most important aspects of a child's development”, said Jemma.

“It’s especially important for children with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions, as it allows children to express themselves, and helps them emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually”, she added.

Jemma’s entire career has involved working with children, from her early days in schools, nurseries and children’s holiday clubs abroad, as well as facilitator in parenting programmes to more recent roles in children’s community health teams, supporting children with complex medical needs. Her role as a play practitioner at Tŷ Hafan is to provide inclusive play activities for children both at the hospice and in the community.

“We believe passionately that every child has the right to play, whatever their level of ability. If a child is not able to physically move or join in, that doesn't mean that they can't play – it's just about finding the way that works for them”, she said.

Jemma’s first step in planning play activities is to carry out a play assessment in conjunction with the child’s parents or carers, helping them to understand that even though their child may have limited mobility or unable communicate verbally, they can still use their other senses to develop their skills through smell, touch and have fun through other methods of communication.

From her assessment, Jemma creates a personalised play profile which goes into the child’s bedroom when they visit the hospice, and which gives the care team a deeper insight into each child’s personality. Outside of the hospice, Jemma will carry out 10 – 12 play sessions with the child, often involving parents, siblings and extended family members. Once the play sessions are over, the child gets a specially tailored play pack which includes development milestones and suggestions on how to get the most out of play to cater for the particular child’s needs. These are used by the families, community nursing team at the child’s home, in respite care or in school and they list activities and ideas for play including how to use sensory skills, how to make stimulating toys out of household items, as well as listing suppliers of specialist toys and equipment.

Back at the hospice, families are offered a range of play services both for residential and visiting children.

“Mags and I facilitate sessions called Stay and Play as part of our Day Care service, and although appearing spontaneous, are meticulously planned”, explained Jemma.

“We combine a mixture of play and arts and crafts, and parents are often encouraged to join in. There are also one to one music and complementary therapies on offer tailored to the child’s needs, using a range of specialist sensory equipment and amazing facilities at the hospice like our multi-sensory room, the hydrotherapy pool, soft play area and outdoor playground”.

“For non-residential families, we offer Family Day Care twice a month. These are for any child who isn’t attending school, if they’re pre-school or have complex health care issues. The children gain confidence to try new and different types of play which they may not have experienced before, using our play resources and equipment, allowing them to interact together and giving parents the opportunity to meet other families facing similar circumstances to their own”.

Jemma continued: “Holiday Day Care is an extension to Day Care which we offer more frequently during July and August. This allows us to support our families on top of their allocated 2 short breaks a year. During these days, we organise team building sessions for families, lots of outdoor play, and themed days that allow everyone to join in and have fun. The siblings love it too!”

All families using the hospice have access to the charity’s toy and leisure library, which means they can borrow larger pieces of equipment, and specialist sensory toys that wouldn’t have at home.

Tŷ Hafan children and families joined in the celebrations for National Play Day, taking part in a whole host of inclusive activities based around the theme of the colours of the rainbow.

Jemma concluded: “Our approach to play is not focused on what a child cannot do, but instead we encourage them to discover what they can do. Our aim is to help families create special memories they’ll cherish forever and enjoy the time that they have together”.

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