Playing Up! A community interactive programme, Somerset

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Early Years
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Narrowing the gap in outcomes for young children through effective practices in the early years
  • Improving children’s attainment through a better quality of family-based support for early learning

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Somerset County Council

Local authority/local area:

Somerset County Council

The context and rationale

Playing Up is a six week community interactive programme to help adults manage the behaviour of their babies and young children. The programme aims to help parents and practitioners find their own values and solutions so that they feel confident and able to cope and enjoy being a parent all the time.

Background Details

The programme has been designed by Educational Psychologists employed by Somerset County Council. It was designed in response to requests from firstly, children’s centre managers for advice about giving parents good information to help them manage difficult behaviour in pre-school children; and secondly, to the Early Years Foundation Strategy Advisor Service requirement to deliver SEAD (Social and Emotional Aspects of Development. It was originally delivered through the EYFS Advisory Service Strategy as part of their statutory duties. A proforma setting out the developmental and emotional Milestones required for babies 0–9 months, is available from C4EO team at the NFER.

The aims of Playing Up can be summarised as follows:

o To improve knowledge of child psychology, child development and parenting at an individual and community level. 
o To help with managing parenting stresses by increasing self-awareness.
o To improve parental self-efficacy and confident interaction.
o To facilitate problem solving at a community level. 
o To facilitate engagement with community services. 

The requests arrived at the time when it was apparent that professionals from different disciplines, had some shared ideas about where parent child relationships and behavioural mismanagement could be improved. These were families who were often isolated and not coping with their children, who themselves were being seen as problems in their pre-school settings. It was felt that information about child development and an understanding of the importance of developing secure attachments would be the basis for the programme. In addition, it was hoped that local parent support groups could be started as a longer term outcome. 

In 2008 when the programme started, SEAD had yet to be delivered to Children Centres and the educational psychology service was already working with the early years advisers to deliver training in social and emotional development to practitioners in pre-school settings. It seemed appropriate to link practitioners and parents together to develop a shared approach to behaviour management that delivered all aspects. Core to the planning was the knowledge that parents are a child’s first and most influential educator. 

The group of experienced educational and child psychologists, had been trained in the Webster Stratton approach and were very familiar with the Solihull approach. As psychologists, they believed that aspects such as personal construct psychology, attachment issues, learned helplessness and strategies to support solution finding, should be included in the programme. A variety of techniques are used such as guided imagery, video, talking, diagrams, drawing, scaling and develop positive reframing and reflection skills. The programme is an eclectic mix of the best practice.

The aim was to provide a programme that was workshop based and user friendly. It was designed for parents of children 0 to 5 years. It is a multi-layered programme and can be seen as belonging within a framework of cognitive behavioural therapy. Experiences are shared; unhelpful beliefs are considered and challenged by new learning in the hope of behavioural change.

It was recognised that parents are often given confusing advice and there was a desire to help parents to feel confident in their own skills. The aim was to share knowledge of child development so that parents could reflect on the appropriateness of their expectations. The core of the plan was to introduce positive experiences between adult and child as the foundation of improving emotional health and well being in parent and child. The idea was planned to emphasise the potential of shared play as the way to foster and develop positive relationships. 

The title uses the concept of children ‘playing up’ to bring in adults and then helping them to play with their children and share more positive experiences with them; play being the arena in which adults develop positive interactions which in turn to reduce the incidence of unmanageable behaviour and ultimately helps to raise child achievement.

The principles of the programme are that: 

• play is crucial to learning and development; 
• attachment theory demonstrates that positive relationships are essential between adult and child. 

Play is the arena in which these relationships and the child’s emotional, cognitive and physical development can flourish. With knowledge of what can be expected at different ages, play can be appropriate and meaningful. Relationships can develop positively and behaviour management becomes easier.

Some families, through a variety of factors, may have missed out on early positive relationships and this programme helps them to repair and improve their relationships and provides strategies that are helpful when more typical methods have failed.

The practice

A format was created that modelled some of the aspects that are integral to the scheme. The sessions follow the same pattern, illustrating routine and consistency. Each session has a number of strands, a theme for the week, a focus age group, psychological underpinning, exploration of personal experience, a few activities, reflections, plans for the week in between. The presentation is on PowerPoint and handouts are given in a folder like a part work. Clips of DVDs are shown. Additional leaflets are given out on subjects such as: how to make toys, and aspects of child development not covered in depth in the session. Parents do not have to be able to read and are not expected to write. 

The programme was first delivered in a children’s centre as a pilot scheme. The feedback from the group led to some changes in delivery, including a longer session to allow participants longer to share their experiences. 

The power of language and positive reframing was very much required. As well as pre- and post- six week evaluations, a follow up telephone survey six months on was carried out and a journalist Richard Webber also questioned the participants and wrote an article in Early Years magazine March 2009 ‘called Happy Days’. 

The revised format was committed to memory sticks and a group of educational psychologists were trained to deliver the programme. Ideally, 2 psychologists are needed to deliver the programme as often sessions can promote memories and insights that might require some specialist support. This has not always been possible so a family support worker from the Children’s Centre where the course is delivered also delivers the programme.

Working across Somerset county, meetings in local areas, which include health visitors, family support workers, early years advisers and children centre managers, are held (ARCHEY meetings, Action and Review of CHildren in the Early Years). Through these meetings needs/appropriate parents are identified. 

Referrals to Playing Up

As well as those parents identified by professionals, some parents self refer and these constitute the majority of the attendees. Some will have self referred at the suggestion of family support workers and health visitors. The positive outcome is that most of the group perceive that they have come on their own account. 

Posters are displayed in children centres and Doctors’ surgeries. Health visitors and family centre workers draw attention to the course, which has been requested by and planned with an area Children’s Centre manager through the MAISEY process. The children about whom there is a concern are pre-school children. The course is designed around birth to 5 years. (There is also a Growing Up as Good as Gold programme for primary 6-11 and Teenage Kicks for secondary 12 -16).

Triple P is also now available locally and the professionals make a distinction between this and Playing Up with the most vulnerable and disengaged tending to come to Playing Up.

Once a course has been delivered in a children’s centre, requests for more are usually received. 

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

As stated above, pre- and post- course questionnaires are completed. The original pilot questionnaire provided feedback on how the course could be improved. Subsequent feedback has provided data on how parents feel about their children and their confidence in managing behaviour. 

Additionally, a study was commissioned, undertaken as part of the research component of a Doctorate in Educational, Child and Community Psychology through the University of Exeter. This was a mixed methods evaluation of a community Interactive Workshop for Parents by Geoff Morgan. The Executive Summary of this research is available from the C4EO team at the NFER.

The aims of the study were:

(i) To understand whether parents attending ,Playing Up reported more behavioural difficulties in their children than would be expected in a typical UK population.
(ii) To understand whether parents’ perceived changes in their children’s behaviour, after they had attended Playing Up.
(iii) To understand whether parents attending Playing Up reported higher levels of stress than would be expected in a typical UK population. 
(iv) To understand whether parents reported reduced stress after attending Playing Up.
(v) To understand whether parents reported increased confidence in their parenting ability after attending Playing Up.

38 parents/carers taking part in five Playing Up programmes across Somerset county, agreed to participate in the study and completed self report questionnaires at the start of the course.

Of the original cohort, 26 completed the same questionnaires at the end of the final session.

16 participants agreed to complete a further set of questionnaires and took part in semi-structured interviews six weeks after Playing Up had finished. 

In interviews, participants were given a chance to discuss their experience and perceptions of the course and any changes which have occurred during or following participation. The telephone script for the parental survey and the pre- and post- six week evaluation sheets are available from the C4EO Team at C4EO team at the NFER.

Results of the research

The research identified significant results that support the efficacy of Playing Up. Of the cohort of participants questioned:

• 62% reported reduced behaviour problems since attending the course. 
• 90% of those who cited attendance on the course were due to having a child with behaviour problems, reported a reduction in problems after attending. 
• A significant decrease in stress was reported despite 75% acknowledging that they had ongoing concerns and difficulties in their lives. 
• There was a significant increase in parent self agency; 81% reported that their personal confidence had improved. 
• 81% reported changing the way they interacted with their children. 
• 87% reported changing their parenting in terms of planning, consistency in routines and boundaries.

Attendance figures for the course are good with very few leaving the session and sometimes the groups increase in size as partners are invited to come along. The written feedback demonstrates improvement in parental and practitioner confidence both in immediate and delayed follow up.

Comments from attendees

Feedback from a telephone survey of participants six months after completing the course, included:

"I have thought about being in the children’s world more when working with them."
"I feel able to understand my daughter more."
"This has given me time to reflect on my own parenting skills and adjust accordingly."
"As a parent I have learned to make my child’s experiences as positive as possible in order to decrease fear." 
"As a practitioner I will encourage parents to see things from their child’s perspective as well as their own."
"When a child is presenting unwanted behavior - to stop and think what they are actually trying to communicate."
"Since coming to this course, it has opened up new ideas. I’m more understanding of my children’s needs, husband and my own."

The next planned evaluation is to follow up the children after they start school and compare their PSE developmental levels at end of Foundation Stage, with the rest of the population.

Sustaining and replicating your practice

To date, the course has been sustained for two and a half years, through a growing awareness and positive feedback. It has been supported by the Early Years service. 

When it is possible, it is preferable to have 2 psychologists to deliver the course but to reduce costs, it can be delivered with one or with an Educational Psychologist.


The published cost for a specialist is £375.00 a day. 
Six sessions = 3 days so the cost would be £1125.00 

*Add £50 for materials. = £1175.00
For an additional trainee psychologist, add £600 = £1775.00 
For 2 trained EPs = £2300.00

*Everyone who attends receives a folder which grows each week with additional information. They also have a certificate of attendance. 

Amongst the benefits are:

• early Intervention 
• reduced behavioural problems
• professional opportunities for staff
• positive parenting – practitioner relationships
• shared understanding between professionals and shared strategies
• happier children 
• fewer audit applications at school entry
• more confident adults.

The feedback from practitioners in children’s centres has been encouraging. They report that parents are more willing to sign up for other courses. They say that there is more success when parents manage behaviour with understanding and in ways that complement the Centres’ strategies. Several groups went on to become a support group, using Facebook as a medium. 

The psychologists wanted to be involved in the community and with early intervention and preventative work. This has been shown to be the right place to be - perhaps the level of knowledge with well developed social interaction skills are important factors. A partnership approach is important as well as sharing knowledge about child development and psychological theory and strategies with the attendees’ knowledge of the children in their care.

The host centre provides a crèche and a room for the sessions.

The centre nominates a member of staff who attends the meetings and has opportunities to liaise with the attendees between sessions if necessary. They are often the staff who invite or identify the families in the first place.

Since the county adopted Triple P, there have been questions about the necessity for Playing Up!. However those who know both can see differences, which do not conflict. The content is very different and the approach. 

A training pack has been produced so that the sessions can be reproduced across the county. There have been over a dozen courses delivered by eight different psychologists since the course has been refined and developed.

C4EO Golden Threads

• Know Your Communities
• Together with Children, Parents and Families
• Shape Up and Keep Fit
• Prove it


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t. 020 7833 6825

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