The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis


Play Observatory

COVID-19 Play in the Pandemic: A National Observatory of Children's Play Experiences During COVID-19


A National Observatory of Children’s Play Experiences During COVID-19’ is a research project funded by the ESRC, running from November 2020 to March 2022, bringing together researchers from IOE, UCL’s Faculty For Education and Society, the School of Education at the University of Sheffield, and The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on children and young people, affecting where, when, how and with whom they can socialise and play. We would like to find out more about their experiences of play and games during this time and how these differ from - or continue - their earlier practices.

We are asking young people and adults to share examples of play and expressive culture, through descriptions, photos, drawings, sound recordings and video clips contributed to an online survey and in-depth case studies. The Play Observatory will preserve these contributions and make them publicly available, providing insights into the experiences of children and young people at this unique time in history and informing future generations’ understandings of young people’s lives.

digital yoga

play in the pandemic

Play in The Pandemic exhibition

Developed in collaboration with Young V&A, EpisodStudio and Marcus Walters, the exhibition is organised into four themes: Constructing, Imagining, Exploring and Innovating, with each theme exploring different modes of children’s play.

The exhibition takes the form of an unfolding origami house – inspired by children’s activities, the playful design reflects how people’s homes were the settings for many pandemic experiences.

Link: https://playinthepandemic.play-observatory.com/ 

Partners - Organisations

  • School of Education at the University of Sheffield
  • Young V&A
  • British Library
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital

Research Team

Professor John Potter
Dr Kate Cowan
Dr Yinka Olusoga
Dr Michelle Cannon
Dr Julia Bishop
Dr Cath Bannister
Dr Valerio Signorelli


Olusoga, Y., Bannister, C., Bishop, J., & Signorelli, V. (2022). Preserving the Present: Designing a Child-Centered Qualitative Survey for a National Observatory of Children’s Play. SAGE Publications, Ltd. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781529603736

Cowan, K., Potter, J., & Cannon, M. (2022). Researching Children’s Play Using Online Ethnographic Case Studies: Insights From the Play Observatory. SAGE Publications, Ltd. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781529603538

Cowan, K., Potter, J., Olusoga, Y., Bannister, C., Bishop, J.C., Cannon, M., & Signorelli, V. (2021). Children’s Digital Play during the COVID-19 Pandemic: insights from the Play Observatory. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, 17(3), 8-17.  https://doi.org/10.20368/1971-8829/1135590

Funding and dates

ESRC November - March 2022


Dr Valerio Signorelli (v.signorelli@ucl.ac.uk)
Professor John Potter (j.potter@ucl.ac.uk)

Further information / Project link