Thursday 21 September 2017

Play time is important for kids

Play is a vital part of a child's learning and development. Photo: Thinkstockphotos.com
Play is a vital part of a child's learning and development. Photo: Thinkstockphotos.com

Lisa Salmon

Making time for children to play freely is vital, say play experts and TV presenter Jeff Brazier, who want parents to make play a priority for their kids

Play is a vital part of a child's learning and development - yet while most parents make sure their children go to school to learn and develop, few prioritise play in the same way.

These days, almost a third of UK parents don't let their children play enough because of safety worries, and also because they don't recognise that a lack of play can have serious effects on a child's long-term development.

A new survey by the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) and Play England has found that 66pc of parents would like more time to spend playing with their children, citing work, a busy schedule and feeling too tired as the three main reasons that prevent them from playing.

It's a trend which the BTHA and Play England wants to stop, and they've launched a new campaign, Make Time to Play, to try to encourage parents to prioritise play.

The campaign is supported by TV presenter and Dancing On Ice star Jeff Brazier, a single dad to two young sons whose mother was the late reality TV star Jade Goody.

Brazier says he plays with his sons, Bobby, seven, and Freddy, six, for about an hour a day before bed.

"Making it part of their routine means that I can make sure it happens and doesn't get forgotten, and also that the children instinctively know that after homework is playtime," he explains.

"Playtime is our time to spend together, and for me to be really focused on them - away from work and other distractions."

The trio play games such as hide and seek, or, weather permitting, sports such as tennis and football.

Brazier confesses: "I actually enjoy playtime as much as they do and it's easy to see that they're most happy when they're playing."

Brazier's comments echo the survey findings, which showed that 44pc of families are at their happiest when they're playing together, with 89pc of parents saying they noticed negative behaviour if their children didn't get the chance to play during the day.

Brazier acknowledges that finding the time to play can be tough for busy working parents, but stresses: "I think it's really important for parents to set aside time to play with their kids, as it has such a huge effect on them, both physically and emotionally - plus it's great fun!"

He adds: "What I really enjoy is watching my kids play together, without me, because that's when they're most creative and having the most fun - it gives them freedom and the opportunity to make up their own games and use their imaginations."

Brazier is raising a vital point about play here, says play expert and psychologist Amanda Gummer, a spokesperson for the campaign.

She explains: "It's not the case that parents need to spend hours of quality time playing with their kids every day. They need to play with their friends and on their own as well."

She points out that parents don't play in the same way children do, and they should sometimes take a back seat and let children learn what it's like to feel bored, and work out what to do themselves.

She warns that children shouldn't be over-scheduled with classes and activities, pointing out: "Working parents can sometimes be guilty of trying to make up the time to their children, thinking they have to make every minute count and trying to do constructive, quality time stuff.

"But kids are always following orders, and it's really good for them to think, 'I'm going to do this myself this time'."

She describes play as a "win-win situation", as children playing out gives parents the freedom to get on with whatever they've got to do.

Playing teaches children independence, problem solving, creativity, and imagination, says Gummer, who points out that playing with friends can also teach them about co-operation, negotiation, compromise, turn-taking and various other 'soft skills' which will be useful in later life.

Yet despite such huge benefits, the survey found that rather than traditional playing, 56pc of children spend between one and four hours a day in front of a computer screen.

The BTHA also found that 10pc of children only get time for traditional play at the weekends, and 8pc get no time all week for any traditional play.

And while some aren't playing out because of their parents' safety concerns, Gummer stresses: "Stranger danger is hyped up - it isn't any more real now than it ever has been.

"Traffic is a real fear, but if you teach children right from the word go how to cross roads properly, you can trust them to do it safely."

She says the overall message of the campaign is for parents to let kids be kids.

"Give them their freedom, and don't step in to stop play.

"Play is how children develop lots of skills most effectively, and parents don't need to be involved every minute of every day."

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