About Us

Playtrain is the leading provider of hands-on training creative children’s consultations and research for organisations and individuals working with children. We aim to promote the creative potential of children to help make childhood an inspiring journey of discovery. Playtrain works with play and early year’s services, the arts, public sector agencies, community groups, children, families and anyone wanting to work creatively with children. We provide a range of creative training courses which can be tailored to your needs. Our areas of expertise include:

  • Encouraging children’s creativity
  • Creative training across the visual, performing and digital arts
  • Children’s participation
  • Promoting positive behaviour
  • Disability equality & inclusion

We aim to enable adults to develop the skills and awareness to facilitate children’s creative expression. Our courses are fun and informal. Please see our Training page for further details. We work with clients to tailor make projects that:

  • Enable children to participate in planning and decision making
  • Use creative arts to encourage expression and participation
  • Encourage adults and children to work in partnership

Our History

Playtrain was founded as a project of the National Playing Fields Association in 1981, and steered to independent charitable status in 1988. Throughout these 20 years the organisation has maintained an unwavering commitment to children and young people’s rights and, in particular, the right to play, and to be involved in cultural life and the arts. Over the years Playtrain has developed and grown steadily, never losing sight of its original aims. It expanded the range of training work undertaken, to become recognised as a leading independent playwork training agency.  As it developed Playtrain became a leading force in implementing equal opportunities in playwork.  It explored the creative potential (and problems) of computers, video and other new technology in children’s play, long before other playwork agencies started to use them. It undertook innovative research and development projects on issues of children and creativity. It extended the boundaries of training adults in creative skills and developing play and creative arts projects with community groups.

Playtrain broke new ground in children and young people’s arts and cultural expression by organising the Article 31 conference in 1993. Play practitioners from around the country attended this conference to promote Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which states children and young people have a right to play and leisure and to take part in cultural life and the arts.

Since that conference, Local Authorities and Voluntary organisations, both in play and the arts, nationally, have adopted Article 31 as their guiding principle. It is largely thanks to Playtrain’s work that the provisions of Article 31 are now known and understood by thousands in the field of playwork, culture and the arts.  One of Playtrain’s major contributions in the UK has been a firm commitment to challenging discrimination and injustice, and promoting genuine equality of opportunity, particularly in the areas of anti-racist and anti-sexist creative play and arts practice.

Playtrain is currently delivering a range of innovative creative programmes to address inequalities of opportunity and to champion the voice of underrepresented and vulnerable groups of children and young people. Over the past two years Playtrain has been working with Birmingham Children’s Hospital to deliver a diverse arts programme for young mental health service users resulting in a series of public art exhibitions.  Playtrain has also enabled groups of disabled children and young people from across the city to access key cultural and heritage venues whilst developing their own arts practice in music, visual arts, public art and animation.

Our Values

The core values that underpin everything we do are:

  • Child-centred - children are at the heart of everything we do and are recognised as competent individuals with interests and abilities. Children are enabled to make their own decisions.
  • Inspirational - we consistently develop and share new ideas to inspire adults to work creatively with children. Children are encouraged to explore their own creative potential and abilities. Clients and partners are motivated to develop creative opportunities for children.
  • Fun - people who work with us have enjoyable experiences as participants in our activities, partners to our business or deliverers of our work.
  • Inclusive - we accord respect to indivduals and groups and trust is promoted by open and honest dealings with people. We actively promote equality of opportunity in all aspects of our work.
  • Approachable - we are friendly and easy to talk to. Our work is accessible to children and adults alike. We are open minded and can adapt to the external world.
  • Client focused - we seek to keep our promises and learn from our mistakes. The quality of people’s lives is improved through their interaction with us.
  • Innovative - conventional ways of doing things are challenged and variety in products, services and workers is sought. We promote journeys of discovery and are not afraid to take risks in our work.
  • Collaborative - we work with our communities and external groups to achieve our goals. People share responsibility and work across organisational boundaries. We actively seek opportunities to work in partnership rather than isolation.


We provide a range of creative training courses which can be tailored to meet your needs. We devise and deliver all kinds of training events: short workshops, full length courses or major conferences.

We aim to enable adults to develop the skills and awareness to facilitate children’s creative expression. Our courses are fun and informal, they involve a lot of participation and not much in the way of writing or lectures.

Our courses are attended by artists, playworkers, early years practitioners, childminders, youth workers, teachers and anyone else who wants to work creatively with children and young people.

Creative Courses

Playtrain courses can be adapted and tailor made to meet your specific requirements.   All of our courses can be adapted according to the age of children and young people that you work with.

Playtrain courses aim to promote the need for children’s creative expression and to enable adults who work with children and young people to develop the skills and awareness to facilitate that expression.

Playtrain regularly runs the following courses as part of our training provision.

Dance and Movement

This course will provide creative ideas, movement games and tips on how to encourage movement within an early year’s setting. There will be opportunities to explore movement using music, props, narrative and role play to help encourage and foster enjoyable healthy activity in your setting.  The session will look at how we can value children’s natural and spontaneous inclinations to move. It will explore developmental movement through floor based play and consider ways to encourage more child-led, whole bodied movement opportunities. This course can be adapted to your needs to include elements such as yoga or cross-cultural dance and for different ages and abilities.

“This has given me good ideas and the confidence to use them.” (Dance & Movement for Young Children, December 2007)

Yoga Dance

This demonstrates how traditional yoga postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques can be delivered through a creative story based approach. At the same time it teaches children about their bodies,  enhances self confidence and encourages a calmness of mind - An essential life skill!

Mini-Movers: Exploring movement play with babies.

Playtrain offers a special training course in movement play for Early Years professionals who work with babies aged 6 weeks -18 months. This explores best practice in child-led movement activities using props, songs and music to encourage babies to move and express themselves. The course reflects on how movement activities can be used for communication and expression and also looks at ways to build these activities into your own setting.

Inclusive Games

Games are an essential part of team building, they can help to liven a quiet group and calm down a lively group; they help people to feel at ease and to get to know each other; they can get the blood flowing and the brain cells ticking. This training will be packed with games for every occasion and setting including: concentration games, quizzical games, energetic games, word games, singing games, name games, storytelling games, drama games and more…

Visual Arts

This course will look at how child-centred visual arts can provide opportunities for children to express their individuality, explore their creative potential and have fun!  Participants can explore a range of hands on arts activities using 2D and 3D techniques that experiment with a range of materials and stimulate imagination. This course is suitable for practitioners responsible for planning creative activities and for arts workers who wish to develop their work with early years. Courses can be tailored made to suit the needs of your setting, or you can choose to explore a specialist activity area:

101 Things to do with a Cardboard Box This day provides plenty of engagement activities designed to explore the many opportunities for creative play using a cardboard box - cheap and yet priceless!

Big It Up Making Day Find out how to make large scale structures and create different play environments using cheap everyday materials—this day provides activities and advice for ‘bigging it up’ in your setting - be prepared to get messy and have lots of fun!

Using Recycled Materials Children of all ages enjoy creative arts activities, but the cost of art materials can often be a barrier. With a little imagination, everyday items from your kitchen cupboards and garden shed can be recycled to create works of art and fun activities.

“The training was wonderful, varied interesting and fun….stimulating, motivating and real” (Visual Arts in Play course participant 2008)

The Great Outdoors

This course will explore practical games, constructions and creative activities which encourage outdoor play. Participants will use the four elements as inspiration for outdoor play and use natural materials to create individual art.

“This was amazing. It was easy to ask questions and I gained so many ideas – I will certainly be trying these out!” (Wild at Art, 27 June 2008)

Playing With Sound

This workshop will give people a gradual introduction to using instruments and songs. We look at games that use sound, but no instruments, and bring in simple instruments in a way that can be used directly with children. Participants will explore rhythms and games which use the instruments and enable them to become more confident in using them. You do not need to be a musician to take part in this course!

Drama & Imaginative Play

Learn drama and role play techniques, which will help you to enable children to explore and develop their creativity and imagination. Participants will experience new games, which encourage confidence and participation, while introducing techniques to create and explore characters, objects and places…but you will not have to perform on your own in front of the group!! This practical training course promises to be full of fun, variety and inspiration

Practical Puppets

On this fun practical course you will create your own puppets, from inexpensive and scrap materials, then bring them to life and put on a simple puppet performance. Types of puppets covered on the course may include: glove/ string/ stick/ large processional/ shadow puppets. Digital Play

Make the most of your digital equipment and learn some very simple yet effective ways to unlock the creative potential of new media with children and young people. This training session will give new ideas, techniques and hot tips on how to use, even the most basic, equipment such as computer technology and digital cameras to explore photography, film, editing, animation and graphic art.

Creative Group

Work A fun, practical course all about working creatively within a group. This training will explore a range of activities in visual arts, drama and games that encourage and develop group cohesion.  The aim is to promote the benefits of team work and look at ways of helping children and young people to develop social skills; exchange ideas and opinions; engender notions of respect and sharing and reap the benefits and fun that can be had by being an active member of a group.

Training Client List

We are delighted to have supported the workforce development needs of a range of regional and national organisations. Clients we have worked with recently include:


  • Staffordshire Early Years & Childcare Services
  • Birmingham Early Years & Childcare
  • Coventry Early Years & Childcare and Children’s Services
  • Stoke Early Years & Childcare Service
  • Sandwell Early Years & Childcare Unit
  • Shropshire Early Years & Childcare
  • Herefordshire Early Years Development & Childcare Services
  • Telford Childcare Team
  • Dudley Early Years Development & Childcare
  • North Staffordshire Special Adventure Playground
  • South Birmingham Primary Care Trust
  • Arts & Media Training
  • Crush Community Arts
  • Ikon Gallery
  • The Children’s Society


  • DepARTure Arts - Dorset
  • Lakeside Arts Centre - Nottingham
  • Artswork - Southampton
  • Croydon Early Years Team
  • Peterborough Early Years Development & Childcare Partnership
  • Participate Wales
  • Community First Bridgend
  • 4Children Essex
  • Boscombe Children’s Centre - Bournemouth
  • Children’s Fund Essex
  • The Children’s House - Stallingborough

Promoting Best Practice

Encouraging Creativity

Many of us receive messages very early on that we are not creative and not ‘good at art’, ideas that we carry for life. This course is aimed at practitioners who wish to encourage exploration and open ended arts experiences for working with children and young people. Practical exercises will be used to remind participants of the joy and value of creativity with plenty of ideas to take away and try out.

“The trainers were very approachable and friendly. Thank you, it was a fantastic and very inspiring day.” (Encouraging Creativity course participant 2006)

Children and Young People’s Participation

Whether you’re new to children and young People’s participation or working within existing participation structures and policies we can provide courses tailor made for your staff or setting. From practical ideas for consulting with children and young people to support with planning at a strategic level please call us and we will be happy to work with you to provide the best solution for your needs.

“A wealth of ideas to take away, relevant and practical!” (Course participant 2007)

Disability Equality and Inclusion

Delivered from the social model perspective, this course will enable participants to explore disability issues including discrimination, inclusion, language and etiquette through a series of practical creative exercises. This course aims to raise awareness in order to work positively with disabled people. Over the course, participants will explore ways to make their own work with people inclusive.

Promoting Positive Behaviour and Self Esteem

This course will look at effective methods for promoting and supporting positive behaviour.  There will be opportunities to explore some of the causes of challenging behaviour as well as look at strategies for dealing with it. The course will then share creative tools and practical ideas for activities that encourage and develop self-esteem and confidence in children and young people.

“It will help me to understand children more, to avoid conflict or to deal with it more effectively and positively.” (Course participant 2007)

Introduction to Reggio Approach

This course will provide an insight into the Reggio Emilia pre school philosophies, whereby learning is based around a child’s own discovery and exploration. There will be opportunities to sample creative activities; explore the art of documentation and identify how Reggio styles can be implemented into the participants’ own setting or practice.

“Very engaging with valuable, appropriate examples and explanantions put within a context.” (Course participant 2008)

Build Your Confidence

This training will help you to build your confidence in directing, leading and supporting creative play sessions. The course will provide a safe environment to explore a range of techniques to boost, foster and instil confidence in your own abilities to work with groups of children and young people.


playtrain has a history of undertaking innovative research and development projects that demonstrate a commitment to best practice in encouraging children’s creativity. Our research projects have included developing an age appropriate consultation methodology for work with children under 5 years old, investigating equality of opportunity in play provision and understanding how children are experiencing extended schools provision.


The Alan Fish Mosaic

A very special Mosaic has been unveiled at Smethwick Swimming Centre. Children from Mary children-alan2.jpgMagdalene School and adults who attend Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council’s Day Services worked together this summer to design and create The Alan Fish Mosaic during Playtrain’s second Dignity Project.  The project was part of Sandwell’s Dignity Campaign, which aims to promote dignity in care and increase understanding between the generations.<a<>

The adults enjoyed finding out things that interested the children, which in turn triggered memories of when they were young. The children saw no boundaries whilst working with the adults and repeatedly referred to them as their ‘friends’.

The children’s comments about the project include:

“Greatest memories ever, I’ll treasure them all my life!” “I will never forget them, (the Adults), they have been lovely to meet.”

The Alan Fish, which sits at the centre bottom of the mosaic was named after one of the adult mmosaic-fish-1.jpgembers of the group, by the children, and reflects the deep respect the children hold for the adults.

The Alan Fish Mosaic’s colourful and flamboyant imagery captures the shared joy, exuberance and common creativity of the two groups and the legacy will be shared with the wider community for many years to come.

Children in Need Success

Playtrain is celebrating the success of a grant awarded by BBC Children in Need to develop another exciting arts programme for Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) users at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Make Your Mark will enable young people accessing CAHMS to devise their own arts programme and work alongside a professional arts team to develop their own arts practice. Young people will choose from a wide menu of digital, visual, craft and literary based arts to create art works for public exhibition and events.

As well as provide opportunities for personal and creative development Make Your Mark aims to:

  • provide a stimulus for conversation and interaction between family members and peers
  • explore ways that the hospital visual environment can be enhanced and developed by young people’s artworks
  • increase self esteem, personal interests, fulfilment and aspiration

Playtrain Celebrates ‘Awards For All’ Success

Playtrain has been successful in achieving an ‘Awards For All’ grant from the Big Lottery Fund to develop a cross cultural intergenerational project with Bearwood Primary School and Penmakers Court, an adult care home.

The Age Exchange project aims to generate understanding between children and older people by facilitating the sharing of different cultures, skills, knowledge and experiences within the group. Through a range of art forms including: drama, literature, song, digital technology and visual or craft based medium, children will gain insight into what it was like to be brought up in a different era, as well as learn traditional crafts, and older adults will learn new skills in technology, which will increase their access to information and recreation.

Age Exchange aims to develop a sustainable model for intergenerational work within primary schools and promote community cohesion by bridging the gaps between the generations.

Singing with Dignity

Playtrain has been commissioned by Sandwell PCT (Primary Care Trust) to deliver an intergenerational arts based project with the aim of promoting dignity and respect within the community. The Dignity Project brings together a group of 10 children in year 5, from Bearwood Primary School, and adult residents and day centre visitors at Penmakers Court care home. The adults and children have been getting to know each other through the art of singing: sharing old songs; learning new ones and writing their very own. The project is culminating in a final celebratory event at The Public, in Sandwell, on 27 April where the group will share their songs with an audience of friends, families and professionals.

The overall aim of the project is for young people to gain an insight into the issues of dignity and respect and for older people to gain an insight into a young person’s experience and viewpoints on this. The project also aims to create opportunities to support formal and informal lifelong learning and to improve the health and well-being of Sandwell citizens.

Playtrain Celebrates BBC Children in Need Success.

Playtrain is celebrating the success of a grant from BBC Childrens in Need to deliver a diverse creative arts programme for young people who access ‘in-patient’ Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Craftshop will introduce young people to contemporary as well as traditional craft based activities that explore innovative approaches, processes and materials across a range of art forms, including: ceramics, printing, metal work, digital media, textiles, illustration and glass.

Craftshop has been designed in response to the interests and requests of young people accessing CAMHS and builds on Playtrain’s, ‘All About Me’ project, also funded by BBC Children in Need last year. Young people said they would like to see arts and craft opportunities more integrated throughout CAMHS services, ranging from recreational activities to personal development programmes.



Craftshop will culminate in a public exhibition which will share and celebrate the achievements of the young people.


The Children in Need grant will provide a unique opportunity for young people who are often marginalised and experience low self esteem to learn new skills, develop their own arts practice and share their achievements with the wider community.

All About Me Exhibition

An inspiring exhibition of artwork produced by the young people who participated in the All About Me project is now on display at the Arts for Change Gallery at BVSC, 138 Digbeth, Birmingham, B5 6DR.

Playtrain in partnership with Birmingham Children’s Hospital delivered an exciting creative arts project for in-patient child and adolescent mental health patients during holiday periods and after school sessions in 2008.

All About Me responded to young people’s requests to do more arts activities and offered a unique opportunity to develop their own creative arts practice and work alongside professional artists. The project aimed to empower young people and focus on their talents and abilities, offering a non-clinical outlet for expression, fun and relaxation.

The exhibition consists of prints using the art of collography; a vibrant array of felt based artworks; illustrations including the now infamous: “Nigel the Snail”; colourful and experimental glass design and photographs of outdoor artworks and work in progress.

Big Play Experiment

The Big Play Experiment was born from reflections following previous playtrain training days. We noticed that when adults were really relaxed and at play, they mirrored images of children and young people doing similar playful activities.

At the time, we were also in talks with play guru Bob Hughes about his theory on the different play types in the development of the ‘whole child’. We decided to go on a creative journey of discovery with adults, children and young people to explore how we play…

Over the course of one week adults were invited to attend daytime sessions in mark making, 2D & 3D construction, little things, digital landscapes and story making. Whilst every evening, children and young people were invited to come into the space and make their own mark on this very special play experiment. playtrain’s core purpose is to promote the creative potential of children to help make childhood an inspiring journey of discovery. The results of this particular journey of discovery have really helped us as an organisation and other participants in the process to re-assess what is needed to be able to promote the creative potential of both children, young people AND adults.

playtrain would like to thank all the people who helped make the project a success, including: playtrain Development Manager Ruth Harrell and Training and Admin Co-ordinator Katy Garrett; Artists and Facilitators, John Freeman, Matt Shaw, Jain McKay, John Godbold, Matt Robinson, Shiam Wilcox, Dawn Powell, Matt Beckett, Jonathon Lee and Janette Bushell.

All the participants including adults from early years, play and youth settings, other artists and teachers, etc; And last but not least all the children and young people who helped to show how it’s done…!

Learning My Way

Playtrain has completed a six week consultation project, working with newly arrived pupils at St. John Wall Catholic School in Handsworth.

The project, commissioned by Birmingham City Council’s Study Support Team and supported by Arts Council England, explored young people’s experiences coming to Britain, what kind of support they have already received and what recommendations they have for further action.

Five emerging artists were awarded ‘Art of Play’ placements through playtrain’s Arts Council England’s supported development scheme to work on this project. For each of these artists, this was a new experience and there were many challenges en-route to learning about the young people, themselves and each other!

Language proved to be an obvious barrier to participation and it was, at times, problematic for the adults and young people involved to understand one another. However, the project was very rewarding for all and proved invaluable in understanding the needs of this diverse group.

The project delivered a clear message to young people about their right to a voice and a say when adults are making decisions affecting them.

“This project has helped me realise there are things I can do and decide about.” (Pupil participant)

“This was an extraordinary opportunity to extend our response to the voice of the learner in an innovative and creative way not constrained by curriculum demands.” (John Hussey, Head Teacher at St John Wall Catholic School)

In response to the findings, the Study Support Team, St John Wall Catholic School and playtrain will be trialling a lunchtime club for newly arrived young people. Young people will have the opportunity to put into practice their recommendations and act as young consultants to other pupils, in a scheme aimed at exploring emotional journeys around the school.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for young people to take ownership of the club and begin to make real changes in their lives at school and in their new community.” (Ruth Harrell, playtrain)

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