Life-Based Learning has consistently championed the importance of adventurous play for children. It has many benefits, not the least of which is helping children learn to assess and manage risk. Now an academic study has demonstrated the benefits of ‘risky play’ for children’s mental health too. It found that children who spend more time engaged in adventurous play involving an element of risk have fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also found that the effect is more pronounced in children from lower-income families.
The study, called Child’s play: Examining the association between time spent playing and child mental health, set out to test the theory that adventurous play helps build resilience in children and protect their mental health.
It defines adventurous play – things like climbing trees, riding bikes, jumping from high surfaces, or playing out of adult sight – as “child-led play where children experience subjective feelings of excitement, thrill and fear; often in the context of age-appropriate risk-taking.” It also notes that, despite the importance of play for children’s development and wellbeing, opportunities for play – particularly outdoor, independent, adventurous play – have been declining over recent decades.
We’re more concerned than ever about children’s mental health, and our findings highlight that we might be able to help protect children’s mental health by ensuring they have plentiful opportunities for adventurous play.Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at the University of Exeter, quoted in the Guardian
This is really positive because play is free, instinctive and rewarding for children, available to everyone, and doesn’t require special skills. We now urgently need to invest in and protect natural spaces, well-designed parks and adventure playgrounds, to support the mental health of our children.
Developing emotional resilience is another key element of Life-Based Learning. In blogs such as Children’s mental health services in crisis we have discussed the need not just to fund existing mental health services properly but also to rethink how we support children’s mental health and wellbeing.
Life-Based Learning emphasises the importance of daily physical activity, of playing sports and games, and of outdoor learning more generally. A life-based approach to children’s education and development must also involve regular, high-quality opportunities for play. Play is fun but it also brings with it huge benefits in terms of children’s development – intellectual, emotional, social and physical. This new study shows the importance of play for children’s mental health and resilience. Play also develops self-awareness and social interaction skills, as well as promoting key life skills such as creativity and problem solving.
Sadly, opportunities for children to learn and develop through play are in decline. It is important that schools and communities – and those in positions of power, of course – address this, ensuring that there is quality play provision so that all children are able to enjoy and learn through play – including adventurous play.
Image at the head of this article by Bente Jønsson from Pixabay.