The importance of play

A new fact sheet recently published by Unicef ‘A summary of the Rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child’, highlights the importance of play in a child’s life. Article 31 (Leisure, play and culture) states that ‘Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities’.

The fact that play is included alongside other basic rights such as freedom of expression, protection from violence, right to privacy, standard of living and education demonstrates just how important it is that children are allowed to be children, and have the free time to play – whether that be unsupervised imaginative play, or physical play.

Children learn and develop through play. Play can and should be what they make it. Essentially it is free time for them to define and choose what they do. They learn what is socially acceptable, how to behave with other children, how to make friends. Physical play enables them to test out their limitations, work out where the boundaries lie, to try out risks and challenge themselves to achieve more.

The opportunities for play on outdoor recreational spaces – whether the local playing field, or the local play area – are boundless. Good quality, safe and welcoming outdoor spaces for formal and informal play and recreation are vitally important for our children and for the whole of our communities. Providing a community with a playing field for more structured play and sport opportunities, and a play area for more informal play opportunities gives the vital balance that is so important in a child’s life.

There are obvious health and well-being benefits of play in these times where sedentary activity is increasing, and children are tempted to play outdoors independently less and and less. Play has a direct link to health.

A recent survey by children’s food company Organix found that 8 out of 10 parents were more likely to give their young children a gadget to play with rather than letting them play outdoors, yet only 29% of mothers questioned felt that their children would prefer to play on electronic gadgets rather than explore the outdoors. A whopping 99% of parents found that exploring outdoors helped to improved their child’s creativity, curiousity, independence and imagination.

Added to this should also be the importance of their physical health; at a time when tackling increasing childhood obesity is high on the country’s agenda, outdoor play opportunities should be too.

The vital work that local playing field and play area managers do in providing opportunities for children to play should not be overlooked, and should be championed. After all, play is a basic childhood right, that our children should be able to enjoy.

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