In this article, adapted from his foreword for The Ribena Plus Play Report, Adrian Voce reflects that evidence of a crisis of confidence in how parents feel about play, is yet further indication of the need for a new national play policy.
Research suggests parents’ lack of confidence undermines children’s play
Adequate time to play in the right environments – especially outside – helps children to eat well, sleep better, make friends, grow in confidence and get the physical activity that is so important to their healthy development. It is also, of course, when they are happiest.
Parents don’t need research to tell them this.
The benefits that come naturally from children simply being given the time and space to play are there for all to see and although experts know there is good evidence to support these claims, parents know instinctively that a playing child is an engaged, contented child.
A new report from social researchers, Trajectory, commissioned by Ribena Plus, confirms this. It reveals that parents understand how important playing is for their children. It also shows that they mostly appreciate that play should be free from external expectations, directed by the child for no other purpose than to have fun and explore their world.
So far: so good. Children appear to be in good hands. But there is a more worrying aspect to the research. This is that for all their wisdom about the value of play, many parents are not finding the time, space or motivation to give their children enough of what they know they need.
Pressures on their time, anxiety about safety and their own lack of confidence seem to be contributing to parents moving away from the best play opportunities, compensating for this by a reliance on TV and other screen-based activities.
But if parents already know this, why aren’t children playing more?
We know from other research that the outdoor world is no longer as child-friendly as it was for previous generations. Parents are acutely aware of this. Traffic, crime and a culture that increasingly sees children playing outside as a threat or a sign of neglect, all present barriers to outdoor play. Parents may worry about the sedentary lifestyles of their children, but they also want them to be safe. This report also raises the spectre that perhaps a new generation of parents, having grown up themselves without the rich play experiences of earlier generations, are lacking in confidence to simply make time and space for play.
The previous government responded to these issues in 2008 by producing a ten-year Play Strategy. As well as investing in new and better play areas all over England, the Play Strategy set out to make all residential neighbourhoods safe, child-friendly places where children would feel welcome to play and their parents would feel confident to let them.
In spite of a successful start and much public support, the Play Strategy was abandoned after only two years.
This study shows that parents know playing children are thriving, creative, healthy children – but that they need a bit of help to give kids the time and the space that they need.
We will all have a brighter future if they get it.