It’s child’s play, really
Play is a serious business and a lack of play opportunities for children is becoming a form of deprivation, according to play national organisations.
All too often the subject of play has been trivialised, consigned to local newspaper pictures of bouncy castles and “gappy toothed children with their faces painted like clowns” says Penny Wilson of the Play Association Tower Hamlets.
“This has nothing to do with what play is about. Play is an instinctive and essential part of childhood which is becoming more and more under pressure, with evidence that a lack of spontaneous play leaves a long-term social legacy. Play allows children to work out their emotions. When you’re playing you’re finding out about who you are. Play isn’t about fun. Even with very small children, you can see there is a symbolism to their play, there’s a meaning to it”(BBC feature: Generation of ‘play deprivation’).
Play is vital to the development of good physical and mental health as well as learning (Best Play).
Through play children explore social, material and imaginary worlds and their relationship with them, elaborating all the while a flexible range of responses to the challenges they encounter.
Children are getting less and less opportunity to PLAY as more and more structured ‘educational’ activities take its place.
The National ‘Playwork Principles’
♦ All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.
♦ Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests in their own way and for their own
Play can be provided by a host of different environments not just play areas, but also within Breakfast, After School and Holiday clubs, in the home, garden, beach, woods, parks, countryside, etc.
It is essential that we provide a wide variety of play opportunities for our children. Out of School clubs employ qualified and experienced Playworkers who have a good understanding of natural play. It is equally important to recognise that play is not necessarily provided in structured activities such as sports clubs, drama clubs, etc. although the activities provided in these clubs also have a value.
Providing play is not expensive. Playing outside or indoors costs nothing. You can use a bedroom, stairs or even a cupboard! Play equipment is best when it’s free and easily accessible e.g. stones, wood, things you have in your home like sheets, pillows (excellent for a pillow fight) boxes, etc.
Kids in Cotton Wool
It is also important to recognise the risk involved in play and the fact that this is an important part of positive child development, that minor accidents are part of play and a necessity for children to learn their own capabilities and develop their skills. Let’s face it, no-one has learned to ride a bike without falling off! This is an acceptable danger as the benefit far outweighs the risk. In this climate of Health & Safety anxieties it amazes us that people still let their children learn to swim!
Thankfully we are now nationally recognising the importance of risk in play and the Health & Safety Executive have endorsed the Managing Risk in Play document which is now being implemented more and more in play provision, so our ‘cotton wool kids’ hopefully will be a thing of the past. The role of Playworkers in this agenda is to balance the risk with the developmental benefit and well being of children and involve them in the assessment of the risks and challenges they are interested in taking.
A message to Practitioners
Play also provides opportunities for many practitioners e.g. schools, education and health professionals, social workers, etc. to support families and their children (all ages) to meet their health and educational targets e.g. tackling obesity, mental health problems, healthy eating & lifestyles, increases in concentration, self esteem, confidence, social skills & interaction, etc. It is equally important not to forget that once children (5 – 16/19) go to school they also need to play (even more so given the work they have to do at school).
Play is a serious business and life is a lesson learned through play. Bring it on!
What are Playworkers?
Playworkers, assuming their work is guided by the Principles of Playwork, are there to support and facilitate the play process, support children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play and act as advocates for play in adult led agendas. This is a highly professional and skilled job but sadly its value is not yet recognised in the same context as other children’s professionals.
It is important to also mention that play is important for all children regardless of ability and/or disability and inclusive play is the only way forward to the creation of an inclusive community and society in the future where discrimination through lack of understanding and awareness can be reduced and hopefully alleviated
Chrys Brookes is Founder of Club 4 Kids, Hastings (charitable Out of School hours Play Provider) and mother of 4, including a disabled son who benefited greatly from Club 4 Kids!
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