Improving play opportunities for young people is one of the most valuable ways that an adult can spend their time. A recent study by Tim Gill, titled the ‘The Play Return,’ confirms what observant parents already know. Play is the best way to encourage happiness and confidence in children.
The benefits of play
Free, unstructured play is great for getting children to increase their levels of exercise and physical activity. Throughout schools across Britain, children tend to get more exercise in their unstructured breaks than they do from structured physical education lessons. Structured sports do have a vital place in our education system, but we should also make plenty of room for the kind of wild play that children naturally pursue when only loosely supervised by an adult.
Play also also has a range of academic benefits, from improving skills and attitudes to positively affecting behaviour. Children learn social skills through play, and it has even been shown that play improves social relations between ethnic groups in schools.
Public play areas bring benefits not only to nearby children, but to whole families who have easy access to these facilities.
Families who live closer to public play equipment report a greater level of average happiness than those who live further away. It seems that parents too can benefit from playing with their child, or at the very least, experience less family tensions when their child is well exercised and has the opportunity to practice good social skills with their peers.
Play in the community
At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive that unstaffed public play equipment decreases incidences of local vandalism and anti-social behaviour. But in reality, acts of vandalism are usually carried out by bored children with no proper outlet for their energy. Given a chance and a suitable outdoor space, the vast majority of children prefer playing to getting into trouble.
It has also been shown that supervised play schemes are responsible for stimulating greater levels of social engagement and volunteering in children.
A child who enjoys her playgroup may well feel greater attachment to her local community, and want to repay this attachment by giving something back.
Parents generally recognise the importance that play has for their child’s well being to some degree. What they don’t always know is that play has such a positive impact on a wide number of aspects of their child’s life. With screen time quickly replacing play time, it’s more important than ever that we stress the values of real, adventurous outdoor play. Our children will be the ones to thank us.
About the author:
Sam Flatman lives with his two children in Bristol. He works at Pentagon Play, a family-run business that has built and designed playgrounds for the last fifteen years.
Photos courtesy of Tamsin Constable & Natalie Johnson, 2016
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