The first Wednesday in August is recognised as Playday - the national day for play, but of course for children every day is playday.
Play is fundamental for children’s enjoyment of childhood and vital for their health, wellbeing and development. Play is how children learn, and there is so much to learn when you’re a child. As adults, we can help all aspects of children’s development through play and hopefully have fun and strengthen our relationships with them at the same time. And of course, children who develop a love of play will often play on their own or with siblings and friends, giving us some much needed breathing space.
At Family Links the Centre for Emotional Health we’ve developed some sessions for parents to help them think about how to bring more play into their family life, and the benefits for them and their children. Parents have told us about some of the ways in which play helps their children:
Physically – becoming fitter, stronger and more co-ordinated.
Intellectually – hearing and using language, counting, being creative, developing their imagination.
Socially – making friends, taking turns, co-operating, problem-solving and working as a team.
Emotionally – having fun and letting off steam, expressing and managing difficult feelings, learning limits and calming down.
Parents benefit from children’s play by having some fun themselves when they join in, or by gaining pleasure from watching their children’s enjoyment and possibly getting some time for themselves.
Different ages, different types of play
Playful interactions start from the moment a baby is born, smiling, talking and singing, and developing “serve and return” interactions, copying the baby’s facial expression and sounds. Play is crucial for pre-school and primary-aged children but even teenagers enjoy being playful, whether that’s joining in sports, card or board games, or electronic games on their own or with friends.
There is a place for electronic games and screens but a balance needs to be struck; some experts recommend no screen time for under 3’s and even for older children there should be parental involvement, with limits to the time spent in front of a screen to allow plenty of time for other activities. Children who depend on stimulation, for example through TV or video games, find it harder to think creatively for themselves or to take responsibility for their own wellbeing later.
Encourage play early and you can help your children to develop interests and hobbies later in life.
Play England describes play as, “What children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests, in their own way, and for their own reasons.” Importantly, play is FUN and it doesn’t have to be expensive either. A large empty cardboard box or a sheet thrown over a couple of chairs makes a fantastic den; old clothes become costumes for the world première of their first-ever show, and sticks balanced on tins are transformed into jumps for them or their toys. For more ideas, take a look at our Time to Play information sheet.
So for Playday 2021 try to spend some time having fun with your children, following their lead, allowing them to choose the activity and be in charge of the play. Sharing these times strengthens our relationships with our children and even a few minutes of fun together can help everyone to feel, and behave, better. And since every day is playday for children, try to find ways to support their play and be playful whenever possible.
Family Links offers the Playful Parenting training course for those wishing to work with parents to encourage play. The course highlights the importance of play and its value in understanding child development and equips you to deliver the 2-hour Playful Parenting workshop to parents, either one to one or in groups.
Sarah Darton, CEO