APDIG and APGAT host workshop with V&A Museum of Childhood on designing for play

The APDIG, together with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Assistive Technology, were delighted to host a half-day workshop at the V&A Museum of Childhood in East London on Monday 18th March, 2019.

The workshop looked into the role of design and play in personal and family life, as well as the challenges that policy makers face in ensuring that this vital aspect of development.

The event was opened by Helen Charman, the V&A’s Director of Learning & National Programmes. Dr Charman presented with brief introduction to the work of the Museum of Childhood and the forthcoming development plans. She expressed a view about how best to embed design thinking in terms of approaches to play and improving accessibility, some of which were noted in a recent blog post.

Dr Charman highlighted the concept of play in a global context based around 6 new skill requirements in the future. The future V&A Museum looks at these in the context of underpinning learning in the new Museum:

  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Criticality
  • Communication
  • Content
  • Confidence

There is also a seventh ‘C’ for the Museum, their Collection.

The first half of the roundtable discussed how young people are being affected by a number of key challenges and how play can be used to explore them. These are:

  • Technology (Industry 4.0)
  • Environmental
  • Demographic
  • Geo-Political
  • Economic

Creativity can be used to harness these changes and help to develop new approaches to play and development. Those in attendance discussed the importance of play in not just helping to promote problem solving, but also how provocation and encouraging learners to adopt new approaches. It is important to consider disruption – as noted in the V&A’s recent exhibition on video games.

The public also need to consider the language of play - including how people have their views adapted to the wider political and social climate.

There is a growing discussion of encouraging productive approaches to mischief. This is also discussed in how adults can better understand how working outside of existing rules and structures is oftentimes the best way of promoting creativity and other outcomes.

The workshop also discussed the Welsh Government’s recent Play Sufficiency Duty, which sets out a policy for how children should be allowed to set the parameters of their own play. The workshop expressed the view that such a policy should be developed on a UK-wide basis.

Participants also looked into how local authorities, designers and architects can better incorporate play into the built environment.

The second half of the workshop looked into the wider issue of play poverty and deprivation. This discussion was chaired by Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. The workshop noted the key role that that the Museum of Childhood takes in the local area, as well as the need for policy makers to understand the value of play and to support the opportunities for parents and teachers to develop it.

Dr Christine O’Farrelly gave a brief overview about the value of play and development on behalf of PEDAL at the University of Cambridge. She highlighted the three main areas of research:

  1. Play and playfulness in early life
  2. The development of social play and social life
  3. The value of play in schools and education

Dr O’Farrelly noted that play as a key area of promoting problem solving and development - as well as encouraging positive social benefits across the whole family unit. It also promotes cognitive and social development, which can be carried forward into a formal learning environment.

The workshop agreed that promoting better access to outdoor space to facilitate play is a vital area for policy makers to discuss. There was a consensus that the two other key factors influencing access and opportunity for play are

  1. Inequality of opportunity to access to material and cultural resources
  2. Growing trend for reduction in break-times

Improving opportunities for play was which was noted in the context of projects such as the Ikea storefront concept in Stockholm and the Paris-Plages initiative. Whilst promoting activities such as this in rural areas and smaller towns is something that should be encouraged, challenges exist – especially in light of continuing pressure on local government budgets.

The final area discussed by the workshop was how museums such as the V&A can work to improve engagement with members of the public, either with open access to online resources, or via social media such as the highly successful campaign run by the Mauritshuis in The Hague to promote new ways of interacting with the museum’s Girl With A Pearl Earring.

The event concluded with a networking lunch and a guided tour of the Museum’s A Pirate’s Life For Me exhibition.

The workshop will feed into a term paper and report detailing the matters discussed, as well as setting out policy recommendations for how Government can promote better attitudes to play.