This article presents an overview of children’s views and preferences regarding how they spend their time after school. It draws on Department of Children and Youth Affairs’ (DCYA) consultations, held in May and June 2016, with children on their views of after-school care. In the first instance we offer a brief overview of the consultations. Thereafter, we detail the importance children placed on play during these consultations and the types of play the children identified and valued. Finally, we consider how these views can inform and interact with the development of play policy in Ireland.

Overview of the consultations

During the consultations children were invited to express their preferences on what they like to do after-school, where they like to spend their time, who they like to spend it with, and their preferences on after-school care in general. Consultations were held with 177 primary school children, eighty-one of whom were aged between five and seven while ninety-six were aged between eight and twelve. They took place in co-operation with primary schools in Dublin, Dundalk, Limerick, Meath, Monaghan, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow. The methods employed resembled those that are now commonly used in consultations conducted with children by the DCYA, encompassing a variety of child-centred group and activities that children are thought to generally enjoy (Barker and Weller, 2003; Fraser, S. Lewis, VV. Ding, S. Kellett, M. and Robinson, C., 2007) Methods used with the younger children involved ice-breaker games, placemats, timelines, voting and an evaluation. In addition to these methods the consultations with the older children included a post-it activity and more sophisticated placemats and timelines. Members of our team observed these consultations and, thereafter, analysed the research materials in developing a report on children’s perspectives on after-school care (DYCA, 2017).

                                                                           Figure 1

Consultation Timeline findings on play and after-school care

For both cohorts of children involved in the consultations, the issue of play arose as being of paramount importance. It was identified as a category in and of itself and was incorporated into other activities the children prioritised such as being with friends, going on outings, relaxing, being in their own, friend’s or relatives’ houses. It emerged in some form or other for 43% of the after-school activities recorded for the younger children and 37% of recorded activities for the older children.  Furthermore, when asked to design their ideal or imagined afterschool care, play was by far the most frequently mentioned category of activity. Their identification of the types of play they enjoy and wish to participate in is important in considering how it can be incorporated into play opportunities for children, which can be mapped onto the structure of their lives. This will ensure that the spaces they inhabit are conducive to the play opportunities they value. While children discussed all types of play during the consultation, including dramatic, creative, object-oriented, physical and static play (King and Howard, 2014), we focus here on three key areas of play identified through analysis of the consultations. These incorporate aspects of King and Howard’s categories and capture the emphasis that arose through these consultations: outdoor play, technological play and relational/peer play[1].  

[1] For more detail on children’s prefrences on after school care see DYCA (2017) Report on Consultations with Children on After School Care, DCYA, Dublin: Available online at ca

Outdoor play and activities

The younger children, aged between five and seven years, placed an emphasis on outdoor play. This could include going on outings and participating in structured and unstructured outdoor activities. This could be explicit, as portrayed in the following: ‘Playing outside in the sun’ (Girl, 6) and implicit: ‘Playing hurling off the wall’ (Boy, 6). References to outside play were associated with active play: football, riding bikes or flickers, and bouncing on trampolines. They were also often open and relational, such as ‘I play with my friends outside’ (Girl, 5) and included activities that we might not consider as play, per se such as ‘gardening’ (Girl, 6), ‘Picking flowers’ (Girl, 6) and ‘Splashing in the puddles’ (Girl, 5). Furthermore, most of the references to unstructured play were in relation to being outside ‘Wing (game in the garden using our imagination)’ (Boy, 7) and, in general, children simply identified outside as a place to go to play ‘Go outside to play’ (Boy, 7).



                               Figure 2                                                              Figure 3

Going on outings and engaging in activities were also prominent in these children’s responses, when asked what they do/would like to do after school. The activities they mentioned were swimming, gymnastics, football as well as outings to the cinema, going to the park, feeding the ducks, going to the farm and the beach. They also included more ambitious wishes, for instance, in wanting to ‘Go to the moon’.

In the older children’s (age eight to twelve) responses a significant number of the total references to play also referred to play outside. Usually children mentioned or depicted outside active play such as jumping on a trampoline, playing football, riding bicycles, scooting and rollerblading.  In some cases, a child’s pet was mentioned, such as ‘Play with Bella, my dog’ (Girl, 9) and interaction with pets seems to offer additional outdoor play affordances, such as playing outdoor with dogs or going horse-riding.



                    Figure 4                                                                     Figure 5

Outdoor play also offered some children opportunities for less adult supervised play opportunities, for example one child mentioned playing in her ‘secret play house’. Organised outdoor activities were also frequently mentioned such as playing hurling and football. Others referred to going to the skate park, ‘Go to the skate-park on my scooter’ (Girl, 8). Others also mentioned they liked to go shopping and eating: ‘Go shopping (Girl, 11), ‘Go to McDonalds (Girl, 11).



                      Figure 6                                                                   Figure 7

Technological play

Young children mentioned some forms of tech play in their responses, although it was more frequently mentioned by boys rather than girls. This gender difference might alert us to the intersections of play for young children with orientations towards embedded and embedding power structures in society. Playing with play stations, on their iPad, watching YouTube and Minecraft all arose as interests of theirs, indicating the importance of technology to them as a play component in their lives. Older children (eight to twelve year olds) also frequently mentioned tech play and this included playing on an Xbox, playing on a phone or tablet. For example, they wrote:

I play my Playstation3 (Boy, 10),

I play Clash of the clans. Clash Royale and Minecraft with my friends (Boy, 11)

Watch a movie – in between play on iPad and other things (Girl, 10), ‘

Play on my i-pad for three straight hours (Girl, 8)


                                                                               Figure 8

Relational and Peer Play

Children in both groups discussed the importance of playing with others, especially family and friends. Examples of this type of relational play included; ‘Playing with friends, having fun’ (Boy, 5); ‘Play football or tennis with my Dad or sometimes my brother’ (Girl, 7); ‘Play princess game with Dad’ (Girl, 7); and ‘Play a board game with my family’ (Girl, 11). Both groups mentioned peer play but the older children were more likely to discuss the centrality of friends to their play experiences. Specific examples of peer play children mentioned included; ‘Bring my dog for a walk with my friend’ (Girl, 12), ‘Draw with friends’ (Girl, 10), as well as doing organised activities with friends ‘Go to my riding centre and ride my favourite horse ‘Ellie’ with my friend’ (Girl, 12). The older children emphasised the importance of opportunities to socialise with their friends and identified spending time in their houses or friends’ houses as an important part of this peer interaction. Examples include: ‘Play with friends at their house or mine’ (Girl, 11). Finally, the children indicated they just liked spending time with friends. They mentioned calling to and hanging out with friends: ‘Call for my friends’ (Girl, 9), ‘Hang with my friends’ (Boy, 10).


Discussion and lessons for policy

The children, and especially the younger children, expressed interest in playing outdoors. The older children placed an emphasis on relational play, playing in general, playing indoors and outdoors. They continually expressed preferences for being with their friends, something that did not emerge as significantly for younger children. For the older age cohort, having opportunities where they could have privacy to be with their friends was important, as was having choice.

An earlier DYCA consultation (2015), with adult stakeholders, also highlighted the need to develop best practice in after-school provision drawing on international developments in the area. They identified greater accessibility of outdoor environments for children and the importance of children spending regular time outdoors in environments that meet their interests. Drawing on the views of the children in these consultations, the development of accessible outdoor environments that incorporate a range of activities, recognise children’s interest in choice, and include spaces for some privacy would be advisable. While research highlights the importance of choice within play in children’s lives (Henshall and Lacey, 2007; Kapasi and Gleave, 2009) it is also important to note that levels of choice intersect with the environments in which children are cared for, the original purposes of these environments as well as the adults present in those contexts who are caring for them (Strandell, 2013; Howard and King, 2014;). These factors need to be taken into account in assessing the potential and limitations of the contexts and spaces in which children are being cared for and in which they are learning and playing.

The children wanted opportunities to socialise with their friends whether they were at home, in a relative’s or childminder’s house or at a formal after-school setting.  The importance of being with friends is also supported by research indicating the importance afforded by children to peer relations, friendships and play (Kernan, 2010).  Another consideration that children identified, and were critical of, was being in settings that they felt they had outgrown and the, sometimes, limited range of activities and equipment available to them in some after-school settings. Examples they gave included seats that were too small for them, inappropriate and broken toys and equipment, being with children who were younger than them and being unable to play with them and having to follow similar and very predictable patterns of activities.   

Furthermore, incorporating technological usage with play opportunities is important in the current societal context. Children experiences and interaction with technology make them ‘digital natives’. We know that interaction with technology intersects with patterns of inclusion and exclusion in society (Warschaur, 2004). The children in this consultation mentioned playing with tablets, iPads, games like Minecraft and so on. They referred to relational and solitary play involving technology and gender differences can be identified in their interactions. Through a thoughtful and creative examination of their preferences and how they might interact with technological developments, play has the potential to support work towards making technology ‘girl friendly’ and relational, should the environments in which they play and opportunities presented be attractive to them.

More generally, in considering play in the lives of children and young people, the preferences they have expressed in where, when and how they like to spend this free time has important implications for the formation of policy and incorporation of opportunities for play that reflect and respond to their views. 


Reference List

Barker, J. and Weller, S. (2003) “Is it fun?” Developing Children Centred Research Methods,

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 23 (1/2), pp. 33-58.


DCYA, (2015) Future Investment in Early Years and School Age Care and Education: Report on Public

and Parent Online Consultation Processes, Dublin. April/ May.


DYCA, (2017) Report of Consultations with Children on After-school Care, Dublin: Government

Publications. Available online at




Fraser, S. Lewis, VV. Ding, S. Kellett, M. and Robinson, C. (2007) Doing Research with Children and

Young people. Sage Publications/ The Open University.


Henshall A. and Lacey L. (2007) Word on the Street: Children and Young People’s Views on Using Local

Streets for Play and Informal Recreation, London: National Children’s Bureau. Available online at


King, J. and Howard, P (2014) Children’s Perceptions of Choice in Relation to their Play at Home, in the

School Playground and at The Out-of-School Club, Children & Society, Vol. 28 (2), pp. 116-127.


Kapasi H. and Gleave J. (2009) Because it’s Freedom: Children’s Views on their Time to Play, London:

National Children’s Bureau. Available online at


Kernan, M. (2010) Space and Place as a Source of Belonging and Participation in Urban Environments:

Considering the Role of Early Childhood Education and Care Settings, European Early Childhood

Education Research Journal, Vol. 18 (2), pp. 199-213.


Strandell, H. (2013) After-school Care as Investment in Human Capital – From Policy to Practices,

Children & Society, Vol. 27 (4), pp. 270–281.


Warschauer, M. (2004) Technology and Social Inclusion, London and Cambridge: MIT Press.


Author information

Dr Jacqui O’Riordan, Lecturer, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork. Jacqui is a lecturer in social policy in the School of Applied Social and her research interests embody the activist and academic and focus on a range of issues concerning gender, equality and diversity in local and global contexts. Research contributions include analyses of aspects of child trafficking, care for children, migrant children's experiences and interactions of education as well as analysis of care and family carers in Ireland.

Dr Deirdre Horgan, Lecturer, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork. Deirdre is a lecturer in social policy in the School of Applied Social Studies and is Deputy Director of the BA Early Years and Childhood Studies at UCC.  She has research interests in children and young people’s participation, children’s rights and citizenship, child welfare and protection and childhood migration.  Deirdre has conducted research, presented at international conferences  and published widely in these areas. 

Dr Shirley Martin, Lecturer, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork. Shirley is a lecturer in social policy and is a Director of the BA Early Years and Childhood Studies in UCC.  Her research interests relate to early years care and education, educational disadvantage and partnership with parents in educational settings. She has also conducted a number of research projects in the area of child and youth participation and has developed a number of youth-led research projects.


Jane O’Sullivan, Assistant Lecturer, Cork Institute of Technology, Cork. Jane lectures on the Early Years degree programme in University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology and is a former preschool teacher. A graduate of the BA (Early Years and Childhood Studies) at UCC, Jane holds a Masters in Social Policy and is currently an Irish Research Scholar undertaking a PhD on children’s voice in the school context. Jane’s research interests include children’s rights, in particular children and young people’s participation.