In early August thousands of children and young people descended on local parks and public spaces to take part in national Playday activities.
Surely we all know that playing is fun and good for children so why do we need a national day to celebrate a child’s right to play? The answer is that many parents and carers forget how important it is.
The benefits of regular physical activity from an early age are well documented and we know that it helps build a lifetime of good habits. But only 21 percent of boys and 16 percent of girls aged 5-15 in England meet the recommended amount of at least one hour of moderately intensive physical activity every day.
A Play England survey found that whilst 71 per cent of adults played outside in the street or area close to their home every day when they were children, only 21 percent of children today regularly play outdoors.
Two reasons often cited as influencing these decisions are worries about the safety of the outside environment and the growth in online leisure.
Today, play in the digital world is a normal part of childhood for most children from a very early age – a staggering 80 percent of three to four-year-olds have access to the internet. Digital games undoubtedly develop a child’s cognitive and problem-solving skills, but they cannot compete with the skills learnt through play – be they social or physical.
We must accept that parental concerns about safety are real. Increased family mobility and longer working days mean that parents are not at home as much as they used to be. They are also likely to know fewer many people in the community as may have been the case decades ago. Increases in traffic also mean that many streets are just too busy. Earlier this month England’s parents were found to be more anxious than their peers in other European country. They are also less likely to give their children the freedom to play and go outside.
However, we must look for alternatives rather than give up on children’s play. As parents, we need to balance our anxieties with our knowledge about the benefits of play and find ways to ensure children play outside. Play streets are a fantastic example of communities reclaiming streets for local children. It isn’t difficult to get permission to restrict a street for children to play on and it brings an area to life. We should have them in every neighbourhood.
The best part of childhood is being able to play and not have the responsibilities of adults. That’s what England’s young people told us when I commissioned a YouGov survey on the quality of life for children and young people earlier this year. Around a quarter of respondents also said making friends and socialising was the best part of childhood.
Every child has the right to play and have a happy and healthy childhood. In my role as Children’s Commissioner, I am eager to see that we all celebrating childhood and give children the best start to life.
In addition to parents and carers making more time for play, councils and housing providers must also design safe play spaces, must maintain parks, courts, and street lighting and promote new approaches such as play zones.
Over the next five years I will be ambitious in helping children to develop their independence and freedom through play and I urge parents to join me. If we are successful we will not only enrich childhoods lay the foundations for children to be happier and healthier throughout their lives.