Alliance launches National Week of Play to re-centre play in children’s post-pandemic lives

Leading early years membership organisation the Early Years Alliance has today announced plans for a National Week of Play in June, which aims to put play and the freedom to play back at the heart of children’s learning and development.

The event comes after more than a year of additional rules and restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19 which have restricted children’s ability to play, including the temporary closure of playgrounds and other outdoor recreation areas, and the inability of many young children to socialise with friends and peers.

The Alliance’s National Week of Play will run from 21 - 27 June 2021, to coincide with the planned lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in England, and will be targeted at both parents of under-fives and those working in the early years sector.

The event aims to reflect the integral role of play in children’s early learning and development. As stated in the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework, which is the statutory educational framework which all early years providers and Reception classes must follow, “children learn by leading their own play, and by taking part in play guided by adults.”

As such, the National Week of Play will encourage and inspire early years professionals to ensure that learning through play is at the heart of their practice, and support parents to discover and explore new play ideas for the home learning environment.

While the full impact of the pandemic on under-fives has yet to be fully understood, early years experts and practitioners have expressed specific concerns about the impact of the restrictions on under-fives – particularly on their personal, social and emotional development and wellbeing. Many setting leaders have reported changes in children’s behaviour, including waiting for permission either to play with a toy or object or to move around the setting as they choose.

The National Week of Play will celebrate play through a range of activities, including:

  • A recorded panel discussion with early years experts Helen Moylett, Cathy Nutbrown, Nancy Stewart and Anni McTavish, talking about the importance of play.
  • A range of tips, ideas and activities for early year professionals to try throughout the week.
  • Ideas and resources to encourage parents and carers to get involved.

Parents and early years professionals can register their interest in taking part in the Alliance’s National Week of Play at

Commenting, Neil Leitch, Early Years Alliance chief executive, said:

“It is devastating to think that so many children have missed out valuable hours of learning through play, both at their early years settings as a result of provider closures during the first lockdown, and with their wider families, friends and peers.

“The freedom to play is at the very core of childhood, so much so that it is set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and members of our fantastic early years workforce are experts in creating enabling environments and supporting children to learn through play.

“We hope that every setting, and the families they support, will get involved in our National Week of Play, not only to gain new insights and inspiration, but to help us to highlight the vital importance of play in the development of every young child.”

Melanie Pilcher, Early Years Alliance quality and standards manager, said:

“The pandemic has caused young children’s worlds to shrink dramatically over the past year, making it harder for them to express their innate need to play. We know our children have been incredibly resilient during this crisis, but we cannot assume time alone will enable them to feel comfortable in a social, post-pandemic life, when lockdowns have been such a major part of their short lives.

“The early years workforce has been incredibly creative in devising safer environments for children since Covid-19 hit, but social distancing made more structured arrangements inevitable. As we come out of the third, and hopefully final lockdown, we want to offer children the chance to reclaim their play, helping them rediscover their friends, favourite activities and in turn, the confidence to explore the vast and exciting world around them.”


  • The Alliance’s National Week of Play will run from Monday 21 June to Sunday 27 June 2021. Early years settings, practitioners, volunteers and parents are all invited to take part. For full information and sign up to receive resources as they become available, visit the dedicated event web page:
  • Early years settings remained closed during the first national lockdown, except for children of essential workers and vulnerable children, and were allowed to reopen to all children from June 2020. According to government data early years occupancy in the week commencing 22 April 2021 remained at just 73% of the usual level for the time of year.