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In Conversation With... Nicky Harverson, Strategic Lead for Children and Young People at Active Gloucestershire

Next week is School Sports week and we'll be thinking (and posting!) about how we can include all children in physical activity both during School Sports week and once it's finished too. We know how important engaging all children in physical activity is, meeting them where they are and adapting to different skills abilities. An approach that aligns with this persepctive is 'Play Their Way' - We caught up with Nicky Harverson, the Strategic Lead for Children and Young People at Active Gloucestershire, to hear more.

Hi Nicky, thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us about play their way. Can we start by hearing a bit more about you and your roles?

Hi, and thank you for inviting me to chat with you today. I wear several hats so perhaps we start there. I am strategic lead for Children and Young People at an Active Partnership - what that really means day to day is I seek to understand, learn and develop ways to support young people to be more active in their day. My work takes me and my team into many different places, from communities to schools from non-traditional ways of moving to the more traditional sports. I am also a volunteer cycling coach and chair of a local club, supporting riders aged 6 to 18 to enjoy the art of riding a bike.

What’s play their way all about? 

Play Their Way came to my attention a year ago as they started to build momentum around their launch. Their whole ethos with this movement is to encourage, enable and connect more coaches and organisations around the value of child-first coaching. The idea around Play Their Way comes from the UN Rights of the child, that children have a right to be heard, a right to play and a right to develop. When we apply these principles of Voice, Choice and Journey to our work we find that what we do is both elevated and enhanced. Whilst much of the campaign is centered around coaching and coaches it is not a stretch to apply this to the playground or the classroom. We know that from a young age children explore their world through play, role modelling ideas and thoughts, building self efficacy and advocacy through social interactions and asking questions and finding new ways of self expression not just verbally but also through art and movement. 

What might play their way look like in a school, or a classroom? 

I think there are so many ways a school can embody Play Their Way, as voice, choice and journey is a way of being in any environment. When someone is included, not just invited in but feels included they are more likely to engage and enjoy what they are doing. When it comes to busy brain breaks, which I think are an amazing little pot of joy when it comes to putting movement into a school day, you can start by asking the children what they want to do - this could be anything from in the moment asking a student to pick an animal to be, right through to having a little board at the front that children can write down their ideas for todays breaks as they arrive in the morning. Their voice and choice in movement is a start. You might even give over an active break to the children to fully run - get them at the front to lead the session.

Why is play their way so important for primary-school aged children? 

Enabling a young person to find their voice is the most powerful thing we can do. When children are afraid to speak out for what they want they may feel their thoughts, ideas and opinions are not valid. It may also be the only place they are heard, so this safe space to share and explore enables them to develop. When it comes to play that is the space they can really grow, building their ideas into something tangible or learning how things don't always work the way they want and figuring out another way. I think sport and physical activity can really help develop this. PE is a space where we can do more for our children, working out how a young person wants to move and explore is just as effective as teaching the rules of a game. But at primary it could be any game, it doesn't have to be rounders or cricket, it could crounders where you mix the games and create a hybrid that helps children develop their own rules, still keeping the movement patterns in the game with throwing, catching, running and hitting - but it doesn't need the same structure. 

Do you have any top tips, for teachers or teaching staff who are thinking about adopting a play their way approach?

Start with what you already know and begin adapting from there.  So if you already ask your children what they want, perhaps take it the next step and see if they are interested and willing to deliver for themselves, to take ownership and control. From experience I know that I am always developing this, the more I know about the children I work with the more I am able to adapt my work. They take the lead when they feel trusted and they only trust when you really get to know them.

I also think that time spent developing a game for themselves creates so much more enjoyment and positivity than trying to enforce predefined rules - at some point they will need to learn the rules of a game, but at a young age they can simply play at moving - this will create a life long love of moving.


So many fab bits of insight in there from Nicky, thank you so much for your time! If you're interested in learning more about 'Play Their Way' you can visit their website here, you can listen to a podcast recorded with Nicky here too.

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