New report highlights the importance of outdoor play

Giving children the freedom to play outside is vital for their skills and social development says National Geographic-backed study.

By Jonathan Manning
Published 7 Jan 2019, 12:52 GMT
The frequency of outdoor play has declined by 50% in the UK in a generation.
The frequency of outdoor play has declined by 50% in the UK in a generation.
Photograph by Shutterstock

A new report aims to convince politicians and the educational establishment about the importance of play in child development. The Real Play Coalition (RPC) warns that the time and space for children to play is under severe threat, jeopardising the development of skills that children will require to survive and thrive.

The RPC is a coalition of IKEA, LEGO Foundation, National Geographic and Unilever. It formed in 2018 to campaign for childhood play opportunities.

In a statement, the RPC warns that, “Despite its vital importance in a person’s early developmental journey, children’s time and space for play is squeezed. Lives are increasingly pressured and over-scheduled as rapid urbanisation and disruptive technologies reshape the way we live and work.”

Children are missing out on vital developmental opportunities due to a lack of play.
Photograph by Shutterstock

In essence, the RPC suggests that families are finding it more difficult to free up quality time in busy lives, schools have become more serious and exam-focused, and spaces for outdoor play are under mounting pressure. In the UK, for example, time spent playing outside has declined by 50% in a generation, according to the National Trust.

“Play is increasingly being recognised as the engine
of optimal child development, future happiness and achievement,” said the RPC's new Value of Play report, adding that, “Children today have less time for play of all kinds than previous generations and are missing out on vital developmental opportunities as a result.”

RPC research found that more than 90% of children wanted more play in their lives, but are too busy (or their parents are too busy) for unscheduled play.

“For many children around the world, play time has become a set of highly structured activities rather than an experience they have chosen and directed themselves,” said the RPC report.

Play has increasingly become an indoor activity amid parental fears of the dangers associated with outdoor spaces.
Photograph by Shutterstock

Moreover, play has increasingly become an indoor activity amid parental fears of ‘Stranger Danger’, pollution, road traffic, exposure to drugs and anti-social behaviour.

Describing play as the ‘rocket fuel’ for skills development, which helps us resolve life’s complicated rules of what we can and cannot do, the RPC said its research, “shows that deep learning and higher order skills development are enhanced by play that is:

* Joyful – The point of play is positivity, pleasure, curiosity.

* Builds on everyday meaning – Play that builds on a child’s own sense of meaning, knowledge and experience helps them grow and learn.

* Active and engaged – Active, minds-on thinking that spurs imagination and problem-solving, aids cognitive development and enhances creativity.

* Iterative – Play that encourages active experimentation in a risk-free way, building on cause and effect and experiential learning processes, aids learning across
all facets of a child’s life.

* Social – Social interaction in play allows children to collaborate, communicate their thoughts and feelings, and understand other perspectives as they develop skills that will last them a life time.


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