Children need to be able to safely enjoy and learn through play

Play has huge benefits for children and families. We have repeatedly highlighted on the Forum website its benefits for children’s intellectual, emotional, social and physical development. It helps maintain physical and mental health. It develops self-awareness and social interaction skills. It also promotes key life skills such as creativity and problem solving. However, opportunities for children to learn and develop through play are in decline. It is important that schools and communities address this, ensuring that there is quality play provision so that all children are able to safely enjoy and learn through play.

Our recent post Unlocking the benefits for children of play and outdoor learning stated that children are playing out less than they used to, and that the pandemic is not the only reason why this is the case. Newly published research supports this, indicating that children of primary age are not playing out alone (ie without adult supervision) until they are significantly older than their parents were — as much as two years older.

The British Children’s Play Survey involved researchers asking nearly 2,000 parents about the play of children aged 5 to 11. Key findings were that:

  • the average age that a child was allowed to play outside alone was just before their 11th birthday (an average of 10.74 years)
  • parents themselves said that they had been allowed out before their 9th birthday (an average of 8.91 years)
  • primary school children are, on average, getting just three hours of play a day over the course of a year, with around half of play taking place outside

Click here to read more about the survey.

There are, of course, understandable reasons why parents are reluctant to allow their children to play out unsupervised. However, Professor Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at the University of Reading who led the study, explained why these findings are potentially a cause for concern:

First, we are seeing children getting towards the end of their primary school years without having had enough opportunities to develop their ability to assess and manage risk independently. Second, if children are getting less time to play outdoors in an adventurous way, this may have an impact on their mental health and overall wellbeing.

Professor Helen Dodd, Professor of Child Psychology, University of Reading

Play England is a charity campaigning to ensure that all children and young people have “the freedom — time, space, permission and opportunity — to play throughout their childhood and teenage years.” Their aims are in part educational, ensuring that everyone is “aware of the importance of play — outdoors and indoors — as part of children and young people’s daily lives.”

Click here to read Play England’s explanation of why play matters and the benefits it brings.

Life-based learning emphasises the importance of daily physical activity, of playing sports and games, and of outdoor play and outdoor learning more generally.

The Play England website features in the Links area of the Forum website. There is a page for each of the nine life-based learning themes, with links (a) to sites with teaching ideas and resources for immediate use in the classroom and in curriculum planning (b) to a range of information-rich websites relevant to life-based learning.

The Play England website includes a section for teachers. It includes case studies, research briefings, practical tips and quality-assurance documentation to support the setting up of quality play provision.

We are always looking to expand the Links area of the website and welcome suggestions for additional links to high-quality websites. You can contact us here.

Play England

Youth Sport Trust

Institute for Outdoor Learning

The image at the head of this article is from the Play England website.

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