Heuristic play

Shaheena Perveen

How Better Start Bradford’s Happy Early Years (HEY) Fund brought a heuristic play session to the area.

Parents, grandparents, and other adult carers in the Better Start Bradford area can apply for up to £2,500 to develop ideas and initiatives for local families and their 0-3s and expectant parents.

Grandmother of nine, Shaheena Perveen, received funding from Better Start Bradford’s Happy Early Years (HEY!) Fund to set up her Tiny Toes Soft Play Sessions at Horton Park Primary School for families with 0–4-year-olds. Here, Shaheena writes about what inspired her to set up the sessions.

Shaheena’s Story

Watching my daughters with their children and then observing others, especially after lockdown, I felt there was a need to create more opportunities for families in our community to come to a play group where they can see familiar faces and feel comfortable together.

My daughter works as a Neighbourhood Worker in the Canterbury area and highlighted that there was a particular need here. I am now retired, and I felt that this would be a great opportunity to give something back.

I wanted children to come along and learn together through play, and to show parents how important play is for a child’s development. Play underpins the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage Statutory Framework) as well as all aspects of children’s learning.

Through play, children develop language skills, their emotions and creativity, and their social and intellectual skills. For most children, their play is natural and spontaneous, although some children may need extra help from adults.

Heuristic play

I designed each session around heuristic play, so that the children are using every day, natural objects to play with, such as such as pegs, rocks, cardboard tubes/boxes, lollipop sticks, rather than expensive toys that have only one function. This allowed us to demonstrate low-cost play ideas to parents, and to show how this type of play encourages sensory stimulation, fuels a child’s imagination, and improves their fine motor skills. By taking part in heuristic play, children can also use their creative thinking and concentration skills and develop their confidence.

Other kinds of play

In addition to this, I hired in soft play shapes that can be moved around in different ways for the children to climb over and under, and for them to explore to help develop their fine and gross motor skills.

We also have a sing song at the end of each session using ‘magic bags’ that have different items in to accompany the words of the song. There are so many benefits to singing. Singing to babies prepares them for communicating later in life as it helps them to make sense of the structure and inflections of their native language. For toddlers and children, singing strengthens their lips and tongues which encourages clear speaking, expands their vocabulary, and teaches them about creative language and rhyme.

I have loved delivering the Tiny Toes Soft Play sessions, I have enjoyed meeting new people and their young children, and I’ve also had access to important training, such as First Aid.

Running an initiative for families with 0-4s is especially rewarding when you hear what parents have to say. It has been so lovely seeing children and parents enjoy the play sessions, and it was so much fun bringing everyday items into the play sessions to help develop little minds and bodies.

Feedback from the parents:

“My child loves the sensory play and treasure baskets - she explores all the different textures.”
“A wonderful mix of soft and interactive play.”
“This is my first experience of a play and stay, we made some friends and got to know about other groups in the area.”
“My younger child is now speaking much better after attending the group.”

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.