IEO Centre Lazer, FOCAS

Creating Connections Through Play

Creating Connections Through Play


Summary of the Impact: Dr David Gaul and Dr Miriam O’Regan research into social connectedness led to the development of a 10 week play programme with the aim of promoting sport participation for parents with young children. The establishment of the play programme has led to the development of an innovative interactive template for a parent and toddler play programme, which promotes much more social interaction than the typical Parent and Toddler group. Participants in the research programme have also continued their buggy walking activities together. For some participants, particularly those new to the country, this Parent and Toddler exercise programme was especially meaningful.

Research Description: The Creating Connections through Play research project aimed to:

  1. Examine the levels of social connectedness of parents of young children within Dublin 15.
  2. Investigate if involvement in a 10-week play programme builds social connections among parents of children.
  3. Discover if information on local programmes increases physical activity participation by parents of children.

This research involved parents and toddlers in Tyrrelstown Community Centre in order to administer. A survey among parents of young children before and after engagement in a play programme followed by ongoing semi structured interviews with parents over the course of the programme.

The in-person data collection work took place in two 10-week blocks (Block 1 April-June and Block 2 Sept-November 2022): Block 1 was an exploratory pilot, and its outcomes informed the delivery of the refined programme in Block 2.

Analysis of both blocks of data revealed the social need to build new relationships among young parents in new estates in Dublin 15 as well as the barriers to engagement in sports: timing of programmes and lack of childcare. Comparison with analysis of Block 1 data highlighted further the significant needs of non-native Mothers/Carers in the area.

Description of the Impact: The interactive play programme had a significant impact on the social connections of participants, with the group continuing together for Buggy Walking in the area. Indeed, a secondary outcome of this research has been the development of an innovative interactive template for a parent and toddler play programme, which promotes much more social interaction than the typical Parent and Toddler group.

At the end of the play programme in the second block of research there was a noticeable increase in the number of friendships. In the end survey, 75% had 3-9+ friends whom they saw or heard from at least monthly (up from 50%), with over 53% able to discuss the personal matters with 3-4 people (up from 38.5%); and 77% felt close enough to call on 3-8 friends in an emergency (up from 46%). The qualitative data confirmed this, with many referring to how much they loved the welcoming interactive atmosphere in the group was and expressing the hope that they could continue to meet up and do more together. They have ran another 10 week programme in Balbriggan in Q1/Q2 2023 and now running the programme in 2 locations (Tyrrelstown & Balbriggan) in Q3/4 2023.


What SDG goals does this contribute to?

  • 2 - Social Inclusion “By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status”.
  • 2 - Access to Quality Early Childhood Development ‘By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education’.


Evidence/Sources to Corroborate Research Impact:


  • “So, if any of the young Mums in this area are feeling isolated, I’d say join, join, join something. Join something because it's so important and sometimes it takes an hour every day. And you know it is wonderful just for your mental health, for everything, to get out and chat with other people.”
  •  “It's nice, easy, and really, people here are really lovely.”
  •  “I’m happy to interact with other Mums with children around the same age and kind of chatting about different milestones and stuff that you wouldn't get to chat to people about.”
  •  “Last week was the first time. I couldn't believe how much in one class she came on. So yeah, it was amazing. Normally I would have said she's really shy, very clingy. As you can see here, it's her second time and she doesn't even know I'm here!”

Participants in the programme

 “Tyrellstown Parent and Toddler Programme has been a great success, and now Fingal Sports Office has introduced the same class to Balbriggan, with a new class coming to Swords. These classes aim to create connections within a community that may often feel isolated or feel they can attend a class with their young child. They are free and accessible to all, and they foster friendships among parents and minders while the toddlers explore fundamental movements through play. The groups meet weekly for the class and then socialise afterwards with tea and coffee. Our Tyrellstown group now attend other parent and toddler classes in their area and have also participated in other fitness initiatives within their community centres. Though Fingal originally did not target this group under the Sport Ireland target demographics, Fingal are currently putting additional funds into programmes such as Parent and Toddler, as we have received a great response from all participants.

Chloe Farrell, Senior Sport Development Officer, Fingal County Council