Children will tell us how to get it right as we strive for normality - Ruth Pitt, Leeds 2023

As the monumental task of getting children back to normality begins, Leeds 2023 chairperson Ruth Pitt reflects why playing as a way of learning will be so important.

Monday, 5th April 2021, 11:45 am

Down my street there are two touching displays of rainbow-painted pebbles still nestled in small front gardens, leftovers from the first lockdown.

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Why everyday culture matters so much - Ruth Pitt, Leeds 2023

So much has changed since the distant days when we naively believed freedom was just around the corner but every time I walk past those pretty pebbles I picture the families who made them, needing at the time to express how they felt and finding the answers in the creative play of children.

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Leeds 2023 chairperson Ruth Pitt says young people's voices must be heard. Picture: Tony Johnson

Playing is a way of learning as well as having fun and our children and young people have been deprived of both for over a year now.

Isolated from friends, separated from families, unseen by teachers, robbed of the walk to school and so many of the familiar landmarks that give their lives meaning.

More troubling still, lockdown has moved the most vulnerable beyond the vigilance of those most likely to protect them from harm.

How do we gather our brilliant but embattled kids together again and bring them back to the sunnier uplands where they belong?

The Yorkshire Evening Post has teamed up with Leeds 2023 to count down to the city's year of culture.

As the Government and local councils begin to plan how our schools will catch up on all those missed maths lessons, children and young people will need a great deal more than tutoring in core subjects to make up for lost time.

What they need is help rediscovering the joy of play, the rewards of curiosity, that sense of being safe to express themselves and experience the thrill of creating things together again.

The trick will be to build on what’s already in the city to support them. The Leeds Cultural Education Partnership (LCEP) is a wonderful initiative that brings together educational, cultural and charitable groups to develop a joined-up cultural offer for children and young people.

To help tackle the monumental task of giving children back their normality, Leeds 2023 has teamed up with LCEP and appointed a Children and Young People’s Manager, creating a coordinated response to identifying need, collaborating with partners and artists and helping create a coherent and visible creative education programme for kids of all ages.

Young people’s voice must be at the heart of all this. The pandemic took choice out of their hands and decimated their health and wellbeing, so it’s more important than ever to make sure they’re heard.

Work is already under way, with Tutti Frutti’s Little Live Stories in Holbeck, Harehills and Guiseley capturing children’s conversations about this moment in time and turning them into podcasts.

There will be crossover projects between sport, play and creativity, supported by academic research at Leeds Beckett University to show the value of the youth voice in arts activity.

Schools will play a huge role in children’s recovery. But the education curriculum is only part of the story.

We all need to think how we can make space for children in public places, help them rediscover their social skills, get away from their screens and just play.

Kids have this funny habit of summing up in a nutshell what we adults struggle to explain. So as we strive to help them get over lockdown, there’s one thing we can be sure of – if we listen to them, children will tell us how to get it right.

The Yorkshire Evening Post has teamed up with Leeds 2023 for Hello Leeds, a campaign celebrating the cultural and community organisations that help to make Leeds so special.

Please contact [email protected] to tell us about the projects and organisations that are making a difference in the communities where you live.

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