stay and play sessions

Drop-in sessions, such as 'Stay and Play' or 'Parents and Toddlers', are a great way for families to meet each other and have a change of scene and activities. They are more flexible than a group - there is no expectation that parents/carers attend every week or get there for the start time. They can provide a relaxing way for parents to chat together, while their children play with other children and toys. However, they also offer a great opportunity to share ideas with parents and carers in bite-size chunks, about how they can support their children’s learning through everyday activities.

When developing local Stay and Play sessions, we drew on four years of experience in our Room to Play  drop-in, in our local community shopping centre in south Oxford. Practitioners have a relaxed, low-key approach, but use a variety of strategies to actively encourage parents to interact with their children, both during the sessions and at home.

Peep Stay and Play sessions often focus on a different aspect of child development each week, linked to one of the Learning Together Programme topics. A few activities are provided, some on the floor and some at a table, with a couple linking directly to the topic. The activities cover different aspects of children’s learning and play, such as communication and language, or early reading and writing. Families may be offered a 'things to do at home' handout relating to the topic, as a reminder or to share with other family members.

Perhaps the most significant aspect is encouraging each parent or carer to join in some of the activities with their child, with practitioners and parents sharing a simple but key idea about the activity. Parents and children are invited to join in with songs and a story at some point during the session too, and even reluctant singers tend to join in in their own time. 

example: early maths stay and play activities and key ideas

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activity on the floor: posting things into a box

Families are encouraged to post items (eg socks, toy cars, pegs) into a posting box (a cardboard box with holes cut in the top and sides) and find them again when the lid is lifted.

Key idea: The practitioner talks to the parents/carers about matching things into pairs and counting 1 2 as they are posted in the box. Counting an object in each hand is helpful for very young children.

activity at the table: feeding three bears porridge

Families are encouraged to feed the small, medium and large sized bears (made from shoe boxes), thinking about which size bowl and spoon (small, medium or large) each bear should have.

Key idea: The practitioner discusses how adults can help their children’s understanding of size, by talking about different sizes and pointing them out in everyday life.

sharing messages
As well as conversations, Peep practitioners also share these messages with parents through the use of short signs next to each activity, handouts, and cued modelling (explaining why and how they are doing something as they are doing it). Peep Stay and Play sessions also have a singing and story time, so a relevant story (eg Goldilocks and the three bears) and songs (e.g. Three furry monkeys) can link to the activities.

'Parents and siblings can become empowered to develop into major contributors in their child’s development when provided with appropriate support and guidance'

L. Peterson, 'Keys to a Better Future’, Early Years Education: June 2008