The school summer holidays are in full swing and all around us we see kids climbing trees, thrashing past on their bikes and engrossed in the making of mud pies…or do we?
Due in the main to parental anxiety about children’s safety, free play has reduced to a tenth of what it was in the 1970’s. Factors include ‘stranger danger’, increased road traffic, parents working longer hours, bullying concerns, inappropriate play spaces and fragmented communities.
A recent report by the International Play Association (IPA) says three key play types – creative, imaginative & physical – are as important to a child’s health as the nutrition of a balanced diet.
Malina MacDonald, Play Development Officer for the Highland Council says: "Of course parents are right to be concerned for their children’s safety but we would urge them to try & keep it in perspective & give their kids more time & more space to play" says. "Wrapping children up in cotton wool can be disastrous to their social, intellectual and physical development in the long run, even leading to them becoming inactive, obese & depressed.
"Outdoor play offers kids real independence and helps them make and break friendships, perfect practice for developing relationships throughout life. In addition, getting kids active in their early years makes it more likely that they will adopt an active lifestyle later in life. Parents can make this happen by not being too concerned with messy play & letting kids get stuck into their make-believe without constant supervision. Outside the home you can establish boundaries, retire to a discreet distance and just let kids get on with it.
"Children’s time is now so controlled, they’re driven to & from school & organised activity such as music lessons, sports coaching & dance classes. Yet the best we can do for them is give them the chance to organise some of their own time & activity, how else will they manage this in adulthood if not offered the opportunity when young."
The IPA report argues that over-organising (clubs, trips and ‘quality’ time with adults) & over-indulging (junk food & screen games), means some children are actually suffering ‘play malnourishment.’ And the result is poor neurological development, anti-social behaviour & obesity. The kind of play kids really need, are activities initiated by themselves – and not by or involving adults.
The theme of this year’s National Play Day on August 3rd is ‘Fit for Play?’ The key message is that outdoor play for children is essential, both for physical fitness and for overall health, well-being and happiness, but is their environment fit for play?
The Highland Council is committed to improving its play environments and increasing children’s opportunities for positive play and is currently developing a Highland Play Strategy in collaboration with Play Highland that will be launched later this year. The strategy will be centred around the following six themes:
- Access to play for all
- Incorporating appropriate challenge in play
- Encouraging community involvement in playareas
- Encouraging outdoor play
- Ensuring consultation with children
- Promoting a child/family friendly ethos