The Importance of Balanced Play to a Child’s Development
Dr Amanda Gummer and Fundamentally Children have joined forces with The Entertainer to promote balanced play and why it is crucial for a child to be playing right from an early age and the many benefits they can reap from doing so.
Below you can read an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield where Dr Gummer was posed several questions surrounding play and its importance.
Why aren’t children getting enough active play?
There’s a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is a lack of time. The results from the research we have conducted at Fundamentally Children shows that over three-quarters of children aren’t getting enough active play.
However, it’s about getting a balance of play, not how much (minutes or hours) they are actually doing – it’s the type of play and the balance of it which is more important.
What are children gaining from play?
Play is extremely important for children, after all, it’s how they learn, whether it’s about life or understanding themselves or even developing skills which they do not get from school. Skills such as becoming more confident, being a good friend etc.
One example of the benefits of active play is obvious when we look at the obesity crisis in children. Active play allows children to develop their fitness and stamina levels and develop healthy habits which can help prevent obesity – the benefits and importance of play must not be underestimated.
And what can be done to prevent a breakdown in play, which may occur anywhere between early ages up till adolescence?
We have seen that active play decreases the older the children get and that’s a trend I’m keen for us to address. But also from our findings, we’ve found that younger children aren’t developing enough social skills and we believe that parents and educators often underestimate how important it is for very young children to play socially. So whether it’s through board games or imaginative play, it’s vital for young children to participate in these types of play early on in order to develop their social skills.
Social development at the age of starting school is correlated with exam results right up to the end of their school career so it really is important to ensure children are able to develop through play right from a very early age.
Is play the answer to creativity, self-esteem, mental health & well-being?
I strongly believe that play is the answer to all of these things. If you play (especially from an early age) and follow a balanced play approach then you’re open to a variety of play activities which will help you to develop a wide range of skills.
Skills that include: risk assessment, confidence, social skills, empathy, friendships. All of which are crucial in contributing to positive, mental health as you grow up.
It is important to play and develop these skills early on because as you grow up, these skills will become more sophisticated and enhanced to the point where they act as a buffer later on in life during times of stress and difficulty. Essentially, these skills will allow them to develop coping strategies to overcome adversity.
So as adults are we missing out on play?
Absolutely, we don’t play enough as adults!
To borrow a famous quote,
and there is a growing body of evidence which supports this. For example, older people can keep their minds sharp by staying active and playing.
I think particularly in today’s pressured society we need downtime. You are now seeing items such as adult colouring books, arts and crafts kits and other mindfulness hobbies out there that allow adults to concentrate and focus on these activities which are really good for them and replicate children’s play activities!
What is the Balanced Play Pyramid all about?
The Balanced Play Pyramid is a model we’ve developed here at Fundamentally Children which identifies the different types of play.
You can liken the model to a nutritional food diet, but instead of food, it relates to playing.
So in place of superfoods, you would have the active, free, imaginative, social and child-led play activities, which you can never get too much of and are crucial to a child’s development
Whilst at the other end of the pyramid, you have the solitary, sedentary and passive play activities which would be the ‘chocolates and sweets’ of the balanced play pyramid – not in that they are explicitly bad, but having a diet of just chocolate, sweets and chips is not a healthy one.
So if the solitary, sedentary and passive play activities are part of a balanced play approach, then this is perfectly fine and well balanced. It is also important to realise that not all screen time is bad, as there are a lot of ways in which mobile devices can be integrated into ‘superfoods’ of play.
However, the repetitive apps and games which offer no educational value to a child or their development ought to be moderated when incorporated as part of a balanced play approach.
This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer