What springs to your mind when you think of the word ‘play’? A quick online search for the word produces the definition that it is ‘an activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose’, which is perhaps the most common understanding. Yet this definition wildly underestimates the impact that play has for young people. Through play children explore the world, push boundaries, develop cognitive abilities and build social skills.
More and more awareness on this topic is being brought into the mainstream, with companies such as IKEA creating the world’s largest study on play, and Persil leading the ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign, along with a host of other organisations, to promote the importance of unstructured outdoor play. In fact, play is so fundamental to learning and development that the UN recognise it as a right for every child.
Yet still there is a disconnect between this research and the everyday lives of real families around the world. According to findings from ‘Dirt is Good’, the average child spends less than one hour per day outside. That’s less than the amount of time regulated for maximum security prison inmates in the US to spend outside.
There are a lot of reasons for this ‘play deficit’. One is that with so much pressure to overachieve from an early age, many parents and schools feel that play is less important than scheduled activities such as studying, tutoring and test prep. Yet active child-centred play is a crucial ingredient to developing physical, social, and emotional well-being.
The time has come to embrace unstructured, messy, imaginative play. This theme is dedicated to promoting the benefits of play, for children, families and societies.