In this blog, our Development Officer for Trusts and Foundations, Lisa Marucci, reflects on her recent visit to a Teens and Toddlers session and looks at the importance of play for young people and what a difference a couple of hours makes. 

Our 16-week Teens and Toddlers programme flips mentoring on its head and instead of just giving young people a mentor, we support young people to take on positions of responsibility, to be trusted and to experience accountability in a safe and supportive environment.  

My visit started in the empty dining room. Young people entered, eyes down, shoulders slumped, they took a seat. Our Programme Leads checked in with them about how their day and week had been. It was a hot day and fans blasted in all directions trying to keep everyone cool, I struggled at times to hear the young people’s replies. Because of their recent exams, they had not had the chance to visit the nursery for a few weeks. The Programme Leads asked how they felt about mentoring today and the mood lifted as they were excited to see their mentees. Some were a little nervous, would the toddlers remember them? Reassured by their Programme Leads, the young people headed towards the nursery door. 

When I started working at Power2, my colleagues had often described the difference between a young person at school and a young person in the nursery but nothing prepared me for seeing the transformation firsthand.  

As they stepped through that door, they stood up straight, smiled and were greeted by happy, giggly open-armed toddlers. Immediately they dispersed around the nursery. One of the mentors was led straight out by his mentee to build an obstacle course with pieces of wood and blocks. This attracted the attention of other mentees, and he was quickly surrounded by a group which he handled confidently as he listened to their suggestions. He was encouraging his mentee to play with the others, and she seemed to get a real confidence boost from having a young person by her side. 

On the other side of the playground, excited shrieks filled the air as a game of hide and seek was going on. And here is where it struck me, the mentors were playing too. I wondered how long it had been since they had hidden behind a tree, delved their hands into a sand pit or built a tower out of bricks? Whilst the importance of play is well documented for toddlers, I think it is easy to underestimate the value of this kind of play for young people. I could see they were living in the moment and simply having fun. The stresses that had burdened their shoulders before had been lifted. It was lovely to see the young people flourish and be completely themselves in a supportive environment outside of school. 

During my visit, it was clear that learning from experience was helping the young people to recognise their strengths. When issues arose, when a little one had fallen or there was a sharing dispute, the young people – supported by their Programme Leads – resolved it calmly and thoughtfully. They showed the perfect balance of playing, being a child and being supported to be a responsible adult. I could see how these young people had developed such a myriad of skills and confidence in their abilities that they could manage this transition with ease.  

Once the time in the nursery was over and we went back into the dining room for the final part of the day – the reflective class sessions. As the workbooks and snacks were brought out, I no longer struggled to hear the young people. Confidently they shared their thoughts and experiences about the day. They complimented each other on what they did well, they discussed what they had found challenging and they took on feedback 

In just a few hours the children and young people had boosted each other’s self-confidence and improved their own self-esteem.  

As they all got up to leave, they smiled and looked at me as I thanked them for letting me observe today’s session. Seeing Teens and Toddlers in action and spending time with these young people was a privilege. I know that my contribution as a fundraiser is vital to support this invaluable opportunity for young people.