The Power of Positive Play

The Power of Positive Play

When our children start nursery or pre-school, it can be a tumultuous time for all concerned.  Sarah Post is a staunch believer in 'positive play' and shares her own experiences with Country Child.

The time had come for my three year old to start pre-school. Gulp. I’m not sure who was more nervous; him or me. We had been joined at the hip since he was born and it was going to be a huge adjustment for us both. I found a lovely Forest School hoping he would enjoy the space and freedom of learning in the outdoors. With a yurt in the grounds, a tree house, tree swings, rabbits, tortoises and rescued birds I felt sure he would love it. The introduction sessions went well and he seemed keen to go back until he grasped I would not being staying too. The second time I tried to leave he held me for dear life and wouldn’t let me go. So I became the mum that stayed for an hour – or two. In fact I may as well have asked for a job.

I watched other children be handed to their carer, tears streaming down their faces. And yes they would often stop shortly afterwards, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this came at a cost. I was lucky and had the luxury of not needing to rush off to work so I am not judging anyone who does, but there had to be a different way. Leaving them to cry couldn’t be the only option surely?

After surfing online I found a website called, which suggested playing through difficult situations with your child. Having nothing to lose, I picked a nice calm day and asked him to take me to Mama School. He thought this sounded like a great idea so we pretended to arrive and he showed me where to put my lunch box and coat. I asked if he would pick me up later and he said yes, gave me a hug then left the room.  I pretended to play with the toys and saw him look through the door at me a couple of times. When he came back he told me it was time to go home and we left.

He enjoyed this so much we did it again…

This time when he went to say goodbye I grabbed his leg, ‘Don’t leave me, don’t leave me,’ I yelled.

He thought this was hilarious and used all of my previous lines like, ‘I’m just going to have a quick cup of tea then I’ll be back,’ before trying to wrench himself free. Eventually I let him go and he sped away before I could catch him again.

Interestingly he returned shortly afterwards, not to collect me, but another little girl. This was a good insight into how children must feel when another parent arrives to collect someone else. He came back eventually to take me home and I tried my best to reinforce the situation telling him what a great time I had.

We played the game about 20 times that afternoon and each time it became more elaborate. He pretended to be the teacher and made me line up for my snack, showed me where the toilet was and explained how to feed the rabbit. His favourite was always when I wouldn’t let him leave.

The next time we went to the real nursery he seemed much calmer and actually told me he wasn’t going to cry today and I could go. I walked away not knowing how to feel. Had it worked?

I won’t lie and say there were not days when he wobbled and took a few minutes to settle, but I think playing through all the different scenarios really helped and relaxed his worries. Whatever situation you and your child may be struggling with I would definitely recommend playing it through. You may be surprised at what you find out.


Sarah is mum to 5 year old Henry who spent the first 3 years of his life travelling between New Zealand, Holland and the UK. They are now settled in Wiltshire where Sarah is helping to set up a website aiming to help budding authors get published.