Balancing The Play Diet
Moderation in everything might sound like a boring old mantra and something that your parents used to say, but in the same way that nutrition is about balancing the food groups, a healthy play diet is about balancing different types of play activities. The Play Diet is a practical approach that parents can use to help guide the activities that they encourage their children to do, and can help them resist the pester power that parents tell us they find so difficult to handle.
Why are Children not 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.
What are Children getting 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,
“We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing”,
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 Diet all about?
The Balanced Play Pyramid is a model we’ve developed here at the Good Play Guide 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.
Essentially, 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.
By developing a balanced approach to play and creating healthy habits as the norm, parents are able to treat the children occasionally and not feel bad at times that they let the kids have more screen time than they intended.
Understanding the concept of a play diet can also help with choices around birthday presents as it enables parents to ask family and friends to give children a selection of different toys that they can use to meet different developmental needs.
There’s a lot of pressure on parents regarding the amount of screen time children are allowed. It can be really demoralising to listen to parents whose little darlings only watch half an hour of TV at weekends and only educational programmes at that. Of course, allowing children to sit in front of the computer or TV for hours on end isn’t healthy but the benefits of giving the children some down time in front of the TV, where they’re not making a mess, and give a harangued parent a few minutes to regroup far outweighs any negative effects the TV has.
Have a look around the website and you’ll see lots of reference to the healthy play diet. It is a concept that runs through all the work we do. We believe passionately in the importance of allowing children to develop and learn through play and know that parents sometimes find it difficult to know how best to facilitate that.
5 tips to help balance your child’s play diet
- Active, child-led play is the superfood of the play diet. So try to make this a big part of your daily routine
- Balance inside and outside activity and choose toys that can be used inside to promote active play even when the children can’t go outside.
- Don’t forbid screen time or tech play. Engage with it but don’t use it as a baby-sitter
- Mix and match playmates – children play differently with different people so involve other family members, older and younger children as well as peers.
- Do your research before buying toys, tech or apps for children to make sure they’re going to get maximum benefit from it.