Is ‘play’ a thing of the past? Singapore-based, West Country girl, Caroline Essame, wants to show how to support children to develop their potential. By Margery Hookings
Play is natural, play is good. It stimulates the imagination; it feeds our creative side. And its importance in children’s early years cannot be underestimated.
But with so much emphasis on academic testing of children almost as soon as they’re out of nappies, you could be forgiven for thinking ‘play’ was a thing of the past.
It’s something very close to Caroline Essame’s heart. An occupational and creative arts therapist, Caroline has worked for more than 30 years in the field of creativity and human development, with experience in health and education in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the UK and India.
And now she’s bringing that breadth and depth of knowledge to Britain.
As the founder and owner of Create:CATT (Creative Arts Therapy and Training), a Singapore based company, she is holding three workshops in the UK—one in London, one in Manchester and the third on 10 July in West Dorset.
The one-day workshops will share best practice for working with children through creativity, play and movement.
Says Caroline: “It will cover, through theoretical and practical illustration and case presentations how children learn and how to support all children to develop their potential.”
The daughter of a West Country GP, Caroline was born and brought up in Honiton and went to school in Exeter at the Maynard. Her early years as an occupational therapist were in Exeter and Honiton, working with elderly services and adults with mental health problems. She worked at Digby Hospital in Exeter and with the Community Mental Health Team in Honiton.
During that time, she developed the Reminiscence Roadshow using dance, costume, song and improvisation to bring back memories to elderly people with dementia, touring old peoples’ homes in East Devon.
Caroline is passionate about the creative arts and their importance in everyday life.
“They help us make sense of our world, improve our self-expression and promote healing and development. They are a language in themselves. My background initially was in adult psychiatry. I spent 15 years working with adults who had very traumatic things happening in their lives, and using the arts to help them heal themselves, basically.”
Caroline qualified in the UK as an occupational therapist at Oxford Brookes University in 1985 and then trained as an art therapist at Hatfield University in 1991. She spent three years working in mental health in Malaysia, and returned to the UK to work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. During this time she also was regularly consulted as an expert by psychiatrists in Harley Street.
Subsequently, she was a part of the West London artists’ community at ACAVA (Association for Cultural Advancement through the Visual Arts), developing community studios for people with mental health problems.
She says: “Since I became a mother and have had 18 years of rediscovering the joys of childhood, I see and have learnt, instinctively, how creativity is important for human development across the board. And I believe that if children are allowed to be creative and explore themselves in that way, hopefully we might stop having as many people in mental health institutions as I saw when I was working there.”
As a West Country girl she has always wanted to return to her roots and in May this year she opened a UK branch of her company, which aims to develop her programmes in the UK. As life gets busier and services in health, welfare and education change, play is often forgotten as an important and, indeed, a UN right of the child. Caroline hopes to ensure that children in her homeland do not lose that right and she hopes to share the expertise she has developed while away with the communities she knows and grew up with.