Laura Lane and Liz Richardson
Published 1 August 2012
The report describes the results of a three-year evaluation by LSE Housing and Communities of a family learning programme called Playing 2 Learn. The Playing 2 Learn programme was open to vulnerable families from low income communities across England. It was delivered by a charity, Trafford Hall, home of the National Communities Resource Centre between 2008 and 2011. It consisted of 26 residential weekend events with 795 adult and child family members from a total of 205 families attending. The weekends used creative, low cost play activities to promote play-based learning. The evaluation used baseline data collected by the programme, self-reported short-, medium- and longer-term outcomes based on written feedback from 62% of participating families, in-depth interviews with the purposive sample of 20 families, assessments from referral agencies, interviews with delivery staff, and observations of the residential events. It finds that the families participating in the programme experienced a series of pressures that undermined their ability to engage positively and spend time with their children at home, including family breakdown and formation, pressures of low-incomes, health and behavioural issues. Outcomes for families from the programme were assessed under four themes. First, there was improved family interaction over the short-, medium- and longer-terms, for example reading together and doing messy play. Second, parents’ and carers’ attitudes towards and input into children’s opportunities for play were also improved, including getting new ideas for affordable play activities and continuing to use them up to two years after attending the weekends. To the extent that the evaluation was able to measure, the impacts on younger children’s ability to learn were much more limited. Fourthly, there were positive impacts on parents’ and carers’ participation in the community for around a quarter of respondents, and wider impacts on parents’ and carers’ self-esteem and confidence, primarily through the support of meeting other families in similar situations. The report concludes that the value of the residential setting was to help families to experience new challenges. The experiential hands-on approach helped to generate long-lasting impacts. Many of the families on the programme were going through tough times that play alone could not resolve. The Programme succeeded in its goals to be a ‘snapshot removed from the everyday’, on which families could draw for inspiration when they return to their often challenging daily lives.