With Ronnie McQueen, Playworker at The Yard 

Playing is such an intrinsic part of childhood that it’s impossible to imagine one without the other. To be a child is to be playful, and when kids play, they thrive. Parents know that when our kids get free play, they become happy and vibrant. Although we may witness the immediate effects of play, we may not fully understand the full details of why playtime is so important. We spoke with Ronnie McQueen, a Playworker at The Yard, an award-winning charity that runs adventure play services for disabled children. We interviewed Ronnie to learn 7 things every parent should know about playtime. 

1. Firstly, how can we define ‘play’? 

“Play is to take part in an activity, for example something physical, imaginative or creative, with yourself or someone else, either indoors or outdoors, that generates good feelings, a sense of fun and excitement, that results in a good experience.” 

2. How much time should kids play every day? 

“Over the years I’ve worked with many children, and I’d say about two hours per day. This also takes into account other things within the day, but in general kids need that creative outlet about two hours a day, though it may change depending on a child’s age.” 

3. How can families ensure kids get enough unstructured play? 

“If it’s possible, try and find your own outdoor safe space in nature, either a woodland area or a river or beach, to allow for some exploration and some physical adventure. If that’s done regularly, it would be very beneficial.”

“Also, loose parts play can be great. Get materials like fabric, ropes, tubes, tape, sheets or musical instruments, and set up activities for kids to play with. This provides an opportunity for free choice and creativity.

Kids also love dens, which can be done indoors for fun. If you introduce new materials often, kids won’t get bored, since ultimately the aim is to satisfy the mind.” 

4. Should parents play alongside kids, as opposed to kids playing only with other kids? 

“I don’t think it’s essential, since children need space and time with other children to have fun, and to learn how to build relationships and gain social and practical skills. 

However – and this is a big however – I do feel it’s essential for parents to have a playful relationship with their children, and be involved and play with their children when needed, as it helps with the relationship in so many ways.” 

5. How can play help families during times of crisis? 

“It’s essential through times of crisis, to have that outlet. I’ve seen so many touching moments since the lockdown of Covid. The opportunity to play, be out of the house, have a change of scenery, some interaction with other people, to be able to breathe, let things out, to smile and forget about the crisis for a while… This has brought so much relief, freedom and normality, and brought families together.

Playtime is a coping mechanism during a crisis, and it brings so much love, happiness and compassion; it brings a sense of security and safety, which is so grounding.”

6. How can parents encourage inclusivity of all levels of physical ability during play?

“Start with being involved yourselves. Parents can show an enthusiastic and positive attitude to everyone in the activity. Speak inclusively, to role model the appropriate behaviour for your kids, and ensure there are equal opportunities and enough variety of equipment and materials for everyone. 

If something inappropriate is said, keep your response simple and clear, and focus on the benefits of having fun together. Lead by example – get involved and support the child who was talked about. It’s key to notice how you react in that moment, and to stay very calm and non-confrontational.” 

7. What’s one important takeaway for parents? 

“Parents are going through a lot too, and it’s important to go easy on yourself. Look after your own mental health, lean on other people, use outlets if needed, and do the best you can. Kids pick up on your emotions, so it’s important to be kind to yourself.” 

Speaking with Ronnie made us recognise the many-layered aspects of play, and how crucial it is to the health and wellbeing of kids. We’re excited to get more playful too, and hope this inspires you and your family to go have lots of fun! 

The Yard is an award-winning charity, offering adventure play for disabled children and their families in the east of Scotland. The Yard offers creative and inclusive play experiences in a well-supported environment, as well as wrap-around support for the whole family. The Yard was established in Edinburgh in 1986 by a group of parents, social workers and teachers, who recognised the need for a safe space for disabled children and their families, outside of school and home. For more info please visit: https://www.theyardscotland.org.uk 

If you’re looking for play ideas and to bring a little bit of The Yard into your home, please visit  theyardscotland.org.uk/digital to access a host of fun videos! 

You can also follow The Yard @theyardscotland on social media.