Hello, and welcome to the second in my Advocates of Play series. A series of blog interviews with play promoters around the world...
Introducing Kirsty, of Butterfly House...
Please introduce yourself, and your family.
My name is Kirsty. Together with my husband Matt, we have 2 children, Rupert (6 yrs) and Felicity (3yrs). Alongside being a Mum to Rupert and Felicity I am also a nurse, and I qualified as a children’s nurse in 2009. Since then I have worked in children’s public health as a Specialist school nurse; assessing and supporting the health needs of children and young people.
My passion though lies in supporting children’s emotional health through play, creativity and nature. When on maternity leave with Felicity I set up a business called Butterfly House offering 1:1 emotional wellbeing support to children and their families. I knew there was a need for this kind of work, but I had no idea how high the demand would be. Over the last 3 years, alongside my work as a Community School nurse and being a Mum, I have used play and creative therapeutic techniques to support some fantastic children and their families to overcome issues such as anxiety, anger, low self esteem, self harm, bereavement and building emotional literacy. Currently we are preparing for a family move to Singapore, so I will be taking my passion for play and all things emotional health to the other side of the world!
Can you share some of your own experiences of play as a child? Do you have an earliest play memory, or a story to share about play that was particularly meaningful?
My earliest memory of play as a child is playing with my younger sister. I remember having lots of time to just be free to play, creating our own games with our toys. I also remember doing lots of art and craft. Around when I was 7 we moved to Yorkshire and our house backed onto some woodland. My most favourite memories of my childhood are playing in these woods – creating dens, climbing trees and just being free to explore without agenda or worry.
Can you tell us about how you came to be an advocate for play? In what capacity does play feature in your life?
I’m not sure exactly how I came to find play so essential to our daily lives. I guess the more experience I have as a mum and as a nurse the more I see how much pressure our children are under in todays world. One of the simple things that I can do to help my children and those that I work with is to simplify their lives a little and take them to a place of freedom within the boundary of safe play, where they are free to explore their feelings and make sense of the world they live in.
I’d love to say that I get down on the floor and play with my children at every opportunity, but in reality that’s not the case. At home, play happens pretty organically, and allowing my children to get bored so they have to find their own entertainment sometimes works well for us – I just have to stop myself clearing up their play creations! At work I try to bring play into all the assessments and 1:1 work that I do. Even teenagers like to have a game sometimes.
How would you describe your play philosophy?
I think that ‘play’ is a state of mind and that any inquiry into the world can be explored through play. I think Einstein had it right when he said that ‘Play is the greatest form of research’. I think that there are many forms of play, both structured and free and all of the goals are to explore, learn, have fun and be free to think are good. In recent years I have very much been immersed in the forest school way of life and love to see children and adults inspired by the natural world. In our family, mud and sticks are life! I very much have a barefoot approach at home and my children and those that come for 1:1 work are allowed to play outside barefoot – lots of the children I work with have high sensory needs and feeling the earth with their toes can be really ‘grounding’ for them.
Who or what has influenced your perspective on play? Are there any books, blogs, Instagram accounts that you would recommend?
I would say that my perspective on play is an evolving one, as my children get older and my career takes me in new directions my focus has changed and different ways to play have become more important. I read a few books several years ago that cemented why free play and nature was so important to me as a mum and in my nursing.
My favourites are...
Balanced and Barefoot by Angela Hanscom
Free to Learn by Peter Gray
There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather by Linda Akeson McGurk
and of course, not forgetting
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.
I have also been hugely encouraged by the amazing people I have met on my parenting and professional journey so far. The woodland kindergarten (Woodland Adventurers) and forest school toddler group (Wild Woods Wiltshire) that my children attended, as well as finding creative ideas following likeminded individuals online have all been really inspiring. I particularly like The Imagination Tree and The Big Life Journal for creative inspiration around play that promotes positive self esteem.
How do you facilitate child led, open ended play within your home or setting?
Again I think that allowing my children to get bored sometimes forces them to get creative! I also think that the environment from where play springs from is really important. We don’t have loads of toys at home and generally those we do have require some imagination to play with. Often I create ‘invitation to play scenes’ (a den, picnic, cars etc) either when the children are asleep or out of the house so that when the arrive home/wake up they are excited to see what adventure scene has been set out for them.
During my 1:1 work with children I always have a loose plan of creative activities that I can introduce to them and then they generally take over the lead of the play and I just follow therapeutically behind, offering observation on their play or drawing out emotions/feelings.
Can you share a top tip for encouraging children to play independently?
Role model the play you’d like to see first from an early age. Show that you enjoy play too. Our children are our greatest mirrors!
What type of play are the children in your home or setting really engaged in right now?
At the moment Lego is big in our home, both for my children and those that come to 1:1 sessions. I love how versatile these little building blocks are, and can be used in so many creative ways.
My little girl is also hugely into ‘making notes’, notepad and pencil in hand, and also cutting paper into tiny pieces with scissors…just because she can!
If you had to pick just three toys or play resources to encourage child led, open ended play, what would you choose?
Sticks, Water and pots/pans…oh and mud 😊 and maybe some sunshine or rain!
If you could make one wish for your child, or for the children of today, what would it be?
I wish that the children of today knew how amazing they are, that they have the potential to change the world and that we would let them be free enough now when they are children to play, to learn through play and exploration, to build self esteem, to build relationships with each other so that when they grow up they have the resilience to be change makers in our world.
Thank you so much for your contribution Kirsty! You can find out more about the wonderful work Kirsty does by visiting her website or by following her on Facebook.
What are your opinions about play? What has influenced you on your journey? If you would like to contribute to the next series of Advocates of Play please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.