News Release

Socially prescribed creative play boosts parents’ and children’s wellbeing

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University of Leeds

University of Leeds news 

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Socially prescribed creative play boosts parents’ and children’s wellbeing 

Socially prescribed creative play helps children and their parents develop new skills and promotes wellbeing, a new study has found. 

The University of Leeds-led study evaluated a five-week programme of arts-based play, including singing and music-making, for families of children aged up to three. It found that parents benefited from developing social networks and sharing experiences with each other, as well as learning creative approaches to parenting. The families also gained vital information about their child’s developmental milestones. 

The programme, which was developed by leading children’s arts charity Theatre Hullabaloo to address concerns about parental wellbeing following the pandemic, is the first known socially prescribed creative play intervention for families with children of this age.  

Social prescription is an approach enabling health professionals to refer people in need of help to address their health and wellbeing for non-medical support like local group activities. It can be an effective alternative to medication or other interventions. 

Study author Dr Paige E. Davis, Lecturer in Developmental Psychology in the University of Leeds’ School of Psychology, said: “Social prescription is usually thought to be focused on older and elderly individuals. Recently there has been a push to facilitate different life transitions through social prescription. The transition to parenthood has been neglected in the past in terms of support offered, despite the importance of the relationship between parent and child in the first 1,001 days.” 

“Our study shows that social prescribing for parents and children has benefits for both. Parents believe it improves their wellbeing, while giving them opportunities to build social networks and learn new ways to play creatively. Parents also perceive that it improves their children’s ability to develop new skills.” 

Miranda Thain, Artistic Producer at Theatre Hullabaloo, said: “We see the positive effects of playing creatively with your little one and feeling confident to use those skills in your parenting - whether it be reading, singing or music making - in our work with families every day. Social prescription provides an important route for families who might need extra support and care to take part in programmes of this type.  

“This research, which demonstrates the value in terms of the wellbeing of both parent and child, is hugely important as we make the case for better investment in early years creativity, giving families the tools to be the best they can be for each other.” 

The programme consisted of a one-hour session which had a clear, yet flexible structure. Activities included sensory and imaginary play installations, play stations with age-appropriate toys, books and sensory activities, and more structured ‘Sing and Play’ sessions followed by ‘independent creative play’ time, where children played together while their parents were offered a hot drink. Each session culminated with gentle live music played on the flute and ukulele, sensory lights, bubbles, lullabies and a goodbye song.  

Parents noted key differences between the sessions and typical play groups, which they said could be chaotic and overwhelming. The same group of people attended the study sessions week on week, which parents said was better for developing new connections than typical playgroups, which are open to one-off drop-ins. 

Especially important to parents was their trust in the prescribers and organisation, and the sense of calm that the intervention fostered, because this enabled them to be receptive to practical parenting knowledge and new social relationships.  

Parents believed that the socially prescribed creative play positively impacted their children’s development and their own mental health and knowledge. 

Further research is needed to evaluate the longer-term impact on children’s development and the interactions between parents and their children, the authors say. 

Further information 

My Favourite Part was Learning Different ways to Play; Evaluating a Socially Prescribed Creative Play Programme” is published in Public Health journal on 8 March 2023. 

Email University of Leeds press officer Lauren Ballinger on with media enquiries. 

University of Leeds  

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK, with more than 38,000 students from more than 150 different countries. We are renowned globally for the quality of our teaching and research.  

We are a values-driven university, and we harness our expertise in research and education to help shape a better future for humanity, working through collaboration to tackle inequalities, achieve societal impact and drive change.   

The University is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities, and plays a significant role in the Turing, Rosalind Franklin and Royce Institutes.   

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