Section 1: The Guide
This Play Ranger Toolkit has been developed by, and using the experience and learning of, the Play Ranger charities supported by Go2Play - focused on growing play opportunities for children and harnessing the expertise of the sector.
The toolkit is designed to promote this model of helping children to access free play, but more importantly to help anyone thinking of setting up Play Ranger to do so.
As defined in Scotland's Play Strategy:
'Play encompasses children's behaviour which is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. It is performed for no external goal or reward, and is a fundamental and integral part of healthy development - not only for individual children but also for the society in which they live.'
In addition to providing children with access to play opportunities, Play Ranger projects can also help parents understand play, remove any fears of their children playing out, and encourage parents to join in, engage and have fun too.
Between the toolkit, case studies and appendices there is an extensive range of expertise and advice collated, along with examples and templates to help make setting up a Play Ranger service as easy, and to as high a standard as possible.
Of course, each project and individual community is different and will require editing to ensure it meets these needs. Hopefully this toolkit will provide more than just a start in making this happen.
Play - A Policy Context in Scotland
Play spans and contributes to the vision and outcomes of several Scottish Government policy areas. More specifically, the outcomes achieved by Play Rangers are supported in early year's policy, health and well-being, community development, criminal justice and community planning. Below is a summary of policies that fit with the Play Ranger ethos:
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 31 recognises that play is a right and fundamental part of children's quality of life.
- The Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision (2013) sets out the Scottish Government's aims to ensure Scotland is:
- 'the best place in the world to grow up. A nation which values play as a life-enhancing daily experience for all our children and young people; in their homes, nurseries, schools and communities.'
- Scotland's Play Strategy and Action Plan contribute directly to all of Scotland's National Outcomes. Specifically ensuring that children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed, are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.
- Getting It Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) takes an individual and child-centered approach to the specific needs of a child. This allows for a more specific tailored support network to be formed and ensures a child gets the correct support when they need it.
- The Scottish Government's three main social policy frameworks also encompass play and recognise the impact play, in its various forms, can have on a child's development and wellbeing and that of their family:
- The Early Years Framework
- Equally Well
- Achieving our Potential
- 'Improving outcomes and children's quality of life through play' is one of the 10 elements of transformational change set out in The Early Years Framework. Play is also reflected as supporting developmental milestones in the Early Years Collaborative driver diagrams.
- Play is echoed in Active Scotland's vision of people being more active more often. Increasing children's active play helps to develop positive attitudes to activity and fundamental movement skills.
- This in turn aligns with Giving Children and Young People a Sporting Chance (2014) which recognises the value of active play for children.
- National Parenting Strategy: Making a positive difference to children and young people through parenting (2012), supports parents to understand the positive difference they can make to their child's development, and increase the confidence in their ability to care for their children. Play is a key theme in supporting attachment and building strong family bonds.
- Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill (2014), will open up new ways for communities to determine their own futures. Communities with play at their centre are more resilient and connected and offer a better quality of life for their residents.
- Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland (2014 revision), aims to tackle the long-term drivers of poverty and income inequality through early intervention and prevention. Play supports the reduction of child inequality and delivers outcomes for vulnerable children.
- The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act (2014) will undoubtedly have a positive impact on play in Scotland and will support Scotland's Play Strategy.
These all come together to endorse that Play is an essential part of every child's life and is vital for the enjoyment of childhood as well as the child's social, emotional, intellectual and physical development.
Play Rangers - A Brief History
In the UK, the first Play Ranger project started in 2003 in London with the aim of increasing the use of public parks and providing security to parents concerned over their children's safety. In Scotland, Play Ranger projects formed part of the 2010-2012 investment in GoPlay, the Scottish Government and Inspiring Scotland's initial partnership investing in play. Play Rangers reach and impact in this fund, helped to established Play Rangers as the core activity of the next phase - Go2Play. This Toolkit is one of the outputs from this fund.
Play Ranger projects were invested in because they addressed a number of needs. Many children in Scotland were being deprived of opportunities to play which in turn disadvantaged them, their families, and communities and society as a whole. The root causes of this are complex and include institutional, attitudinal, physical and regulatory barriers at many different levels. There are fewer children playing outdoors and in many communities there are insufficient play facilities and a lack of green space. There is an absence of free play opportunities for children and outside play is still not considered safe by many parents because of anxiety around 'stranger danger' and traffic. Play Rangers offer a model of play which can break this cycle. Play Rangers, delivered effectively, can achieve significant outcomes for children, parents and communities. They not only facilitate a child's right to play but combat anti-social behavior, build relationships within neighbourhoods and improve children's self-esteem, social skills and health.
Play Rangers have the potential to bring about lasting improvements to the quality of children's play, local open spaces and the way communities come together in them. A Play Ranger's role includes elements of youth outreach, community development, participation and environmental work. They need to know how to make the best use of the natural environment for play, make difficult judgments on appropriate risk taking and how to be catalysts for play, without becoming either entertainers or child-minders. Play Rangers also need to be able to make the case for play and to advocate for children and young people with local agencies.
In an ideal future, Scottish communities will not permanently need Play Rangers - children will play freely, feel secure and welcome in a vibrant, well-used social space that meets all their play needs and where they are informally overseen by adults. The journey to this ideal future needs to begin somewhere. The right place to start is to create opportunities for as many children as possible to access quality outdoor play opportunities - and Play Rangers are the ones who can help make this happen.
The Who, What, Where, When and How of Play Rangers
Who is a Play Ranger? A qualified playworker who facilitates children and young people's play through open access provision in local parks and other open spaces is known as a Play Ranger. They are 'detached workers', working in public spaces within communities, enabling and encouraging all children to play freely outdoors. Play Rangers differ from registered after school clubs or play schemes as the children are free to come and go as they choose.
What do they do? Play Rangers facilitate free play in outdoor community settings for children aged 5-13.
Play Rangers mostly engage with children and young people in areas of greatest social and economic need. Generally there are no direct charges for Play Ranger services and no formal registration is required.
Where do you find them? Play Rangers work in parks or open spaces which are usually close to neighbourhoods where children live.
When do they work? Play Rangers work with children mainly during their leisure time, after school and in the holidays. Some Play Ranger provision models also provide free play sessions in natural environments during curriculum time too. They work all year round and often in all weathers.
How do they operate? Play Rangers offer a service which provides opportunities, builds trust and respect, keeps children safe, uses local facilities more effectively and develops a community cohesion that previously did not exist. Play Rangers provide a community service with children's play at its heart.
Children's outdoor play has many facets and can include using playgrounds, playing informal sports, games and activities, interacting with outdoor environments and using natural elements such as trees, sticks, puddles, light, snow, wind, water, earth and fire for play.
Recruitment & Employment
Recruiting a good team of Play Rangers can be a challenge. A starting point is someone who has the will (not just experience) to work with children, to work outdoors in all weathers (all year round) and who has a passion for play!
Often, Play Rangers can be qualified or experienced in other professions which can enhance play opportunities.
A Bespoke Range of Skills
Play Rangers should understand that the playwork profession isn't a regular 9-5 job and often involves working unsociable hours. Play Rangers need to be effective in building relationships with children, families and communities. Play Rangers should understand the dangers of delivering outdoor play and should be trained in minimising risk along with managing and defusing a range of challenging situations.
Advertising is the essential first step and can be worthwhile but notoriously expensive through local newspapers. Effective and cheaper alternative solutions to this could be to:
- build a good bank of contacts of agencies in the playwork, education and youth work sectors on office notice boards or via their external links;
- advertise for free on the local authority websites;
- post vacancies via social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook or Twitter; and to
- put up posters in local organisations.
It is a good idea to invite any interested candidates to visit an existing project to see what the job entails and if the particular style of play provision suits them. This is also an informal way of assessing the suitability of potential applicants before interview.
The hours a Play Ranger will be employed may require careful consideration and should be reflected in the principle duties outlined in the job description.
Areas to Consider when Developing a Play Ranger role
- Contact hours versus planning and non-contact time - and travelling time in rural areas.
- Maintaining and valuing staff working across wide areas.
- Flexibility to allow for second or third jobs.
- Ensuring colleagues have time to create strong teams through effective communication and information sharing strategies.
- Valuing playwork as a viable profession and career path - offering further training or qualifications.
- Variability between potential summer hours versus winter hours.
Team Meetings, Supervisions & Appraisals
Having weekly and monthly team meetings, individual supervision and annual staff appraisals is essential to create and maintain a sense of teamwork and enthusiasm as well as helping to deal with people's fears and worries from the outset. This also helps all staff to grow and develop within their roles.
Team and Detached Working
In order to build and maintain a strong team of Play Rangers who feel valued and supported, it will be important to consider and balance the following:
- an appropriate office base/meeting point that is convenient and accessible for Play Rangers;
- prioritising attendance at staff meetings;
- opportunities for the team contact time in order to share experiences and build skills;
- team building events and staff social events;
- opportunities for teams to work together as much as possible if non-contact time is available; and
- giving staff the tools they need to enable and facilitate contact - i.e. mobile phones for sessions or working from alternative locations.
As well as having a central base for office duties, meetings, supervisions and so on, it is also important to carefully consider appropriate equipment and resources that Play Rangers will need for play sessions.
If possible, equipment should be stored at, or nearby, the play settings, bearing in mind that play sessions do not run to office hours.
Training & Development
Training is an opportunity to boost staff morale and to enhance team work in the workplace.
A good Play Ranger requires a number of different skills and competences. It is important to provide opportunities for staff training to maintain quality play work provision. The following training areas have been identified as essential to the fulfillment of the Play Ranger role:
- First Aid.
- Challenging Behaviour.
- Dynamic Risk Benefit Assessment.
- Safe Guarding Children Training including Child Protection (minimum level 2).
- SVQ Level 2 Playwork Qualification.
It is good to encourage Play Rangers to be proactive in reflecting on their own training and development needs. When Play Rangers have completed any training, regardless of whether it is delivered internally or by an external organisation, it is good practice to put a plan in place to ensure any skills or knowledge gained has the opportunity to be put into practice and shared.
Essential Groundwork and Consultation
There are a number of key considerations that need to be addressed before Play Rangers start to work in local parks and open spaces. A period of several weeks is recommended to enable each new team to establish an identity, undertake preparation and publicity tasks to help local communities understand the nature of the Play Ranger provision and the benefits.
The following steps are recommended when establishing a new Play Ranger service:
- develop a clear identity and vision for their service;
- create a list of other local agencies to communicate with and who may be future collaborators such as local housing associations, local Police, community councils;
- make links with the local primary school and considering delivering fun information/ taster sessions; and
- identify a clear and concise publicity campaign to help reach the key stakeholders, for example leaflets for each child in the local school and community.
It is important for an organisation to have a clear vision for their Play Ranger provision and to effectively communicate this to their clients - children, young people, parents and carers - so everyone knows the purpose and scope of the provision being offered.
Creating a statement of intent, being clear about the difference between childcare and open access provision, and outlining the nature and scope of open access provision is a good way of achieving this goal.
Play Rangers are 'detached' play workers, working away from a fixed setting. They differ from registered after-school clubs or play schemes because they are open access. Open access is defined as:
'... supervised provision which allows children to come and go at will. It is designed specifically to respond to the needs and wishes of children, offering secure and stimulating places where they can play and meet their friends in their leisure time.' (PLAYLINK, 2003)
Before a Play Ranger provision starts it is important to understand the local area. Visit the locality to get to know it and establish baseline figures on its current use - this will be useful in helping to monitor the project's impact over the first few months.
Consider obtaining information on current levels of anti-social behaviour and criminal activity in the area from the relevant local authorities or community planning partnerships. This will help to establish a reference point for any future improvements through the Play Ranger service.
Develop a list of other agencies in the area whose work might align with, or benefit from, the Play Rangers. Contacting as many as possible to explain what the service is, and outlining potential ways of working together in the future can help with a seamless introduction of the service. A full list of local organisations you may wish to communicate with is included in the appendices, but could include:
- Schools, parks and leisure services.
- Police and neighbourhood wardens.
- Residents' associations.
- Shops and businesses.
- Sports and healthy living teams.
Promoting the Project
A good way to promote the project to children is through the local primary schools. Delivering a simple and fun assembly about the service and/or some play sessions during lunchtime will help children get to know the team and understand the services on offer. A leaflet which they can take home may also help.
TIP- Distinctive uniforms and appropriate official identification displayed really helps to establish a clear identity for the service.
An effective way to prepare the community immediately beside where Play Rangers will be is to create information leaflets. These can be delivered to all the houses in the immediate nearby area and where possible, the leaflet should include photographs of each Play Ranger.
Information on the service should also be included on your website with leaflets making reference to the address. Information on the leaflets could include:
- Introduction to Play Rangers.
- Who are Play Rangers?
- What do Play Rangers do?
- Where and when Play Rangers will be.
- Success stories.
- Why it works.
- Contact details.
- Website and social media links.
- Funders' logos.
Consider contacting the local media to promote the service. Drafting a press release for local newspapers around two weeks prior to the first session is a good idea. This could be followed up with an invitation to the editor to attend the new Play Ranger provision for a feature article.
When the sites are well established it may also be worthwhile issuing regular press releases to promote good news stories about the great work the Play Rangers are doing, including the impact of the work on the local community.
Additionally, consider using free social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. These can be successful in reaching a large audience but require a degree of time and effort, and of course the appropriate technology.
Providing a consistent outdoor provision after school, every week, all year round and in any weather, will allow Play Rangers to build strong bonds with local children, young people and parents respectively. This consistency of provision helps develop trust in the communities which in turn helps parents to feel more confident in letting their children come out and play. Consistency is key to effective Play Ranging.
Equipment & Resources
Although children will have their own set of ideas about what they want, additional play materials can provide valuable and rich play experiences, it is worthwhile considering the following:
- Loose parts and scraps.
- Arts & crafts material.
- Outdoor cooking equipment including eating and drinking equipment.
- Sports equipment.
- Building materials.
For a more detailed list of essential play equipment, see the equipment section in the appendices.
Listening to Children's Needs - Consultation
Once Play Rangers start working in a community engaging with children on a regular basis about their ideas for future play sessions is important. This will not only help empower children, in turn building relationships, but will also get them excited about future Play Ranger sessions.
Play Rangers will need to be aware of and develop appropriate consultation techniques to the age and learning abilities of the children. Actively listening to children on a day-to-day play basis will help Play Rangers gain a wider understanding of what children think and want from their play spaces and free time.
Relationships in the Community
Play Rangers help to create positive opportunities for children to associate with their local area and can bring children of all ages, backgrounds and schools together throughout the year. The working ethos should therefore be to try and build positive relationships with the children and young people in their communities and involve them in the decision making and development of the project by listening to them.
It is a good idea to link with and encourage parents and families to become involved with the sessions. This can also be a valuable step towards sustaining the project beyond the Play Ranger's provision.
Working with Volunteers
Volunteers are an excellent way of gaining extra support for sessions and building links throughout the community. Sometimes young people or parents may opt to volunteer as a direct result of their own positive experiences. When recruiting volunteers it is important to make sure all volunteers:
- are interviewed and assessed for suitability for the role by a senior member of the team;
- sign an agreement which outlines their role and responsibilities to the organisation as well as the organisation's commitment to them;
- have a current PVG (Protection of Vulnerable Groups Scheme);
- are supervised and supported when volunteering and feel valued as a member of the team; and
- are encouraged to undertake training offered by the organisation.
More information on recruiting and supporting volunteers can be found from this website: www.volunteerscotland.net/organisations/resources/good-practice-guides/
Challenges - Understanding Children's Behaviour
The localities and 'open access' nature of Play Ranging means it is important for Play Rangers to support children to be able to resolve conflict in a way that still allows them to challenge each other constructively. Through this approach Play Rangers are perceived as non-authoritarian, consequently gaining respect, trust and over time, stronger relationships.
Effectively handling bullying is also a consideration. Play Rangers operate in outdoor public spaces right in the heart of children's territories and are likely to experience a range of different behaviours. By the nature of open access provision, it is often difficult to deal with situations where bullying and challenging behavior occurs. Projects should operate an anti-discriminatory practice and Play Rangers should use their position to address issues as they arise. Examples of issues include bullying, substance misuse, discrimination and racism.
Sometimes situations can escalate very quickly in open access provision, so Play Rangers should be sensitive to behaviours as they arise and support children and young people to work through situations of conflict. In many cases, the young people will need to make decisions for themselves about how they wish to tackle bullying and what collective action they should take. It is crucial for Play Rangers to remain calm, unprejudiced and objective at all times and focus on helping children in re-establishing play. Please see the appendices for further guidance and information.
It is important that Play Rangers follow guidelines for safe ways of working. This is especially important when often working in the dark evenings.
Although each specific play organisation will have its own health and safety policy to inform and guide Play Rangers, the following list contains important aspects of personal safety for Play Rangers to consider.
- Play Rangers should always work in teams of two as a minimum, and be clearly identifiable to parents and children. Brightly coloured uniforms or high visibility vests may be useful along with visible official identification to validate a Play Ranger's identity.
- Play Rangers should always work together and be within vocal range of each other. If a situation arises where only one Play Ranger is left on site then the session should finish.
- Each Play Ranger pair should have a charged mobile phone and a wind-up torch for each session.
- Play Rangers should have up-to-date first aid training and carry a first aid kit. They should also be aware of the organisation's accident and emergency procedures, in most cases their role is as responsible adult rather than in loco parentis.
- It is recommended that each organisation develops a 'dangerous situations' policy that gives all staff and volunteers clear guidelines on what to do in case of any potential difficult situations.
Safe Guarding Children
Play Rangers have a professional responsibility to all the children that they come into contact with. Within an organisation, all Play Rangers should undergo child protection training and there should be a designated officer within each service.
Play Rangers should record incidents and occasions that have caused concern in their session reviews and logs. Any immediate concern should be reported directly to the line manager and each case dealt with individually.
All safe guarding policies and procedures information should be available to all staff at all times.
It is important for children to take responsibility for themselves when playing outdoors. Getting children to create their own rules in play is a good way of developing risk management skills and independence. However, it is important to be mindful of laws and regulations that might impact rules that children have set such as the Green Cross Code and Outdoor Access Code.
Risk in Play
Play Rangers operate in the community and evidence has shown that many children come to use the service because they and their parents feel reassured that someone is there and it is safe.
Many older children also choose to use the public spaces where Play Rangers are present, not always to join in, but mainly to feel better about hanging out in a more vibrant and loosely-supervised space. When consulting with children about their sessions, Play Rangers have found that children will often request challenging play activities that involve elements of risk. Don't let this stop you - challenging play has its benefits. It helps children to develop their own skills in regard to assessing hazards, risks and safety and is a key approach to reducing injuries.
Risk Benefit Approach
Play Scotland publishes guidance which helps play providers strike a balance between the risks and benefits of offering children challenging play opportunities. The guidance, which is endorsed by the Health and Safety Executive, shows how current risk-assessment practice can be replaced with an approach that takes into account the benefits to children and young people of challenging play experiences, including the risks.
The guidance recognises the position that, while outside expertise and advice are valuable, the ultimate responsibility for making decisions rests with the provider. The full implementation guide is written for those responsible for managing play provision, and for those involved in designing and maintaining such provision.
The general approach could also be useful for those who manage
other spaces and settings where children play. To download:
Risk or perceived risk, is different for each individual so will need to be considered as a dynamic process. For example, to one child, playing in the dark on a swing might seem very exciting and risky. For another child, the risk might be plucking up the courage to go out and play for the first time by themselves.
Through Play Ranger provision, children may take part in play activities which include:
- making and cooking on fires;
- making and using outdoor ovens;
- using knives for whittling and stone carving;
- playing with large catapults; or
- building go-karts and using a range of tools.
Play Rangers are responsible for the play activities they help to organise and therefore need good risk-assessment skills. They need to clearly identify the difference between risks and hazards in order to make assessments and complete formal risk assessment forms.
A hazard is something that can cause an accident or harm to someone.
A risk is the chance of the hazard causing an accident or harm.
Formal Risk Benefit Assessments
Risk-assessment forms should detail the activity, potential hazards, possible risks and precautions that need to be considered. A generic formal risk-assessment template can be found in the appendices.
Activity risk-assessment forms should be quick and easy to complete and regarded as guidance and support to staff rather than just more cumbersome paperwork.
Dynamic Risk Benefit Assessments
'Dynamic risk-benefit assessment refers to the minute-by-minute observations and potential interventions by adults who have oversight of children in staffed provision…' (Ball D, Gill T, and Spiegal B, 2008)
Play Ranger sessions are of an open access and free play nature, which means that situations can escalate very quickly. Play Rangers need to be proficient in making dynamic and informal risk assessments. These assessments happen on site and are based on observations of what is happening at any one time.
Accurate assessments will help Play Rangers be aware of, and sensitive to, different play behaviours as they arise. This in turn will help them work with children and young people to support them through situations of danger or conflict. In many cases, young people will need to make decisions for themselves about how to move forward or what collective action they should take. Becoming a perceptive observer will enable Play Rangers to remain calm in stressful situations, unprejudiced and objective at all times, and focused on maintaining a positive and exciting play environment. A dynamic risk-assessment can be found in the appendices.
The open access nature of Play Ranger provision means that the numbers of children can fluctuate, sometimes dramatically in a short space of time. This may mean that some activities, such as making small fires might become too difficult to manage safely and will need to be discontinued. This judgment will be based on the observations of the Play Rangers at the setting. Being sensitive to the 'Playwork Principles' and intervention styles, while also making sure that children don't seriously hurt themselves, is a difficult skill to master, but improves with confidence. You can find out about the
Playwork Principle on the Play Scotland website www.playscotland.org
For more information on intervention styles, please refer to Bob Hughes' First Claim: a Framework for Playwork Quality Assessment.
This provides a description of appropriate ways to intervene in the play process. Ultimately, talking openly about hazards and potential risks helps children manage their own safety while still enjoying freely chosen play.
Monitoring & Evaluation
Play Rangers need to know what difference they make and be able to explain why play is so important for children in Scotland. They need to be able to evidence the difference they are making through their Play Ranger sessions, be confident about what they are measuring, why they are measuring it, how best to capture this evidence and then use it.
- By monitoring and evaluating the service, the project can use the learning for:
- Improving the service and motivating staff.
- Identifying what elements of the work makes the most difference.
- Communication e.g. reports to stakeholders, trustees, funders etc.
- Staff feedback on performance.
- Involving children and families in developing our services.
- Increasing and maintaining funding.
- Lobbying for change.
An Outcome Evaluation Framework ( OEF) was developed by GoPlay with support from Evaluation Support Scotland. The OEF identifies ways that play organisations can realistically demonstrate their difference though use of evidence. It is also used by funders to help applicants articulate the difference they want to make through their play services, and how to do that through an evaluation framework.
The OEF is available as a download from Inspiring Scotland's website: www.inspiringscotland.org.uk/media/6933/GoPlayOEF.pdf
For many, the development of an evaluation framework starts with the construction of a Logic Model. A logic model tells the story of your project or programme in a diagram and a few simple words. It shows a connection between the need you have identified, what you do and how this makes a difference for individuals and communities. The OEF can help you construct one but a typical example is included in the appendices.
A simple evaluation framework should measure:
- Your Inputs - these are the resources you put in to do the work: money, people, time, premises, equipment.
- Your Outputs - these are the activities or services you put on for your users.
- Your Outcomes - these are the changes and differences that you want to make by delivering your activities. They should be specific and simple, able to be measured more than once and show change.
Typical Outcomes that the Go2Play Play Ranger Projects sought were:
- Children have improved health and well-being.
- Children have improved social skills and increased confidence and self-esteem.
- Children are diverted from anti-social behaviour.
- Parents have increased confidence to let children play out.
There are common methods of gathering evidence which will help to demonstrate the impact your Play Ranger project is making.
- Questionnaires, Interviews, Focus groups, Video diaries, Exercises, mapping and visual progress tools.
- Observation notes and session feedback sheets (as Play Rangers will have been trained through their SVQ in Play).
- Attendance sheets, Record of activities, Use of services.
Evaluation is a cyclical process and should be reviewed by all involved in the project on a regular basis. The impact you achieve from your Play Ranger service should be promoted to your stakeholders and partners on an annual basis.
You can find a wide range of useful training and resources on evaluation from Evaluation Support Scotland's website: www.evaluationsupportscotland.org.uk/resources