Grow with play: designing a 
children’s centre in a box

Client: The Children’s Society

The challenge

The Children’s Society is a registered charity, which runs over 43 children’s centres in England, helping vulnerable children to survive and flourish. However, at least 7,000 families are not currently engaging with children’s centres. To reach the most vulnerable children, The Children’s Society wanted to develop an innovative model that would enable the children’s centre to be taken directly into the homes of the most disadvantaged families.

What was needed

The Children’s Society needed support to understand how users might design and interact with a ‘pop up’ children’s centre that takes services to parents’ homes to build their parenting skills. The Society also needed help developing a robust business model to enable sustainable roll-out of this work at scale.

What we did

Uscreates delivered a twelve-month, insight-led, user-centered, crowd-sourced design process. This covered consultation and ethnography; co-design and development; piloting and design iteration with 18 families; followed by development of a sustainable business model for the new service. We followed a collaborative process throughout, and the result was ‘Grow With Play’ – designed and developed by and for parents, early years development workers, teachers and health visitors.

Grow With Play is a children’s centre in a box. Each box contains staff instructions; a set of family profile forms; a series of activity cards; and a bundle of return envelopes. Equipped with the box, children’s centre outreach staff visit families who do not attend sessions at the centre and get to know them better. They gather an understanding of the family’s needs and capture their details for future evaluation of progress. Staff then explain to the family the three prime areas of early years development:

  •     Head: communication and language
  •     Heart: personal, social and emotional skills
  •     Hand: physical skills and health

They work with the family to choose a set of magnetic activity cards that suit the family’s needs, and show the family how to play these activities (e.g. singing nursery rhymes). They then leave the cards displayed in a visible location (e.g. on the fridge), to prompt parents and children to try the activities again. This improves early home learning and bonding. All activities can be applied with simple found objects at home. Once all of the activities have been learned, parents fill in the feedback form and return it with the cards in the return envelope supplied. Staff capture this feedback to evaluate impact and progress; post back new activity cards for the family to try and the process continues…

The results

Grow With Play was piloted in 3 locations across the UK. It reached out to families most in need and supported them to improve the early home learning of their children under 3. Without this intervention, children in these families were more likely to fall into a vicious and continuing circle of disadvantage and under-achievement. The business model identified that Grow with Play would only cost £11.85 per family per year to reach 9000 families across the country. Grow with Play was not progressed further due to new strategic refinement of The Children’s Society services.