The Benefits Of Play For Children & Their Development

Several studies have shown that there are many benefits of play for children and their development, yet children of today spend less time outside that their parents did when they were growing up. In fact, some studies have shown that today’s children actually spend less time outside than prisoners, which is quite a worrying statistic.

A 2010 study found that ‘90% of adults played out regularly in their street as children’ whereas ‘29% of children aged 7-14 say they don’t play or hang out in their street at all.’ ‘47% of adults think it is unsafe for children to play outside without an adult,’ whereas ‘only 11% adults think that it was unsafe for children to play outside without an adult when they were growing up.’ Even children now think it is unsafe to go outside with ‘48% of 7-10 year olds’ saying it is unsafe for them to play outside without an adult. What this shows is a cultural shift from feeling safe to not feeling safe, and as a result, our children are no longer allowed outside to play as much as the previous generation. Whilst the reasons our children do not play outside is a whole new topic for debate in itself, this post addresses the benefits of play for children and their development.

Benefits Of Play For Child Development

Health & Physical Wellbeing

Physical health and combating obesity (which leads to numerous health concerns) has been shown to be heavily benefitted by physical activity in children and adults. If we prevent children from being active, it is likely that they will continue this bad practice into adulthood, negatively affecting their health over their lifetime. Thus to help our children and to improve their health, we need to get them outside and active.

Reduction Of Crime & Anti-Social Behaviour

Research from University of Birmingham and found that ‘play could be effective in reducing the incidence of crime and anti-social behaviour’. Research by Play England has ‘clearly shown that investment in playworkers reduces anti-social behaviour, increases school attendance, and improves communities’ satisfaction with the places they live’. These our not small issues – these are issues that affect whole communities and people’s quality of life on an ongoing basis, and we should not underestimate the importance of these outcomes.

Alleviating Child Poverty

At a time when using direct economic measures to combat child poverty is particularly challenging, the DCSF Child Poverty Unit is basing its approach on four factors – ‘taking action on neighbourhoods, play and green spaces, transport, and crime’ – with a view to ensuring ‘all children can thrive in safe and cohesive communities, with equal access to work, cultural and leisure opportunities’. With a complex issue such as this, improving space and opportunity for play may be a more accessible part of a much bigger, much needed, and ongoing solution.

Community Cohesion

A larger number of social networks in a neighbourhood has been shown to make parents feel safer, as well as allowing parents to build their own social networks by interacting with other parents at school and other child-based events / organisations. When networks like this are built through encouraging play, it helps to build an overall sense of community, positively affecting the lives and feeling of security for everyone who lives in an area.

Combating Risk Averse Culture

The UK government has indicated a commitment to ending the risk averse, ‘compensation culture’ that we have seen grow in recent years, hoping to promote personal responsibility and move away from excessive health and safety fears. The opportunity to play outside and have adventures in nature is seen as an important part of a healthy childhood in which we must recognise that children need to learn risk management whilst they play, leading to more independent, self-dependent individuals.

The Importance Of Play

Play is no longer seen as a way of passing time or meaningless frolicking – it is a hugely important part of child development that benefits both children and the communities that they live in. It has been largely undervalued at times and we have seen a decline in both the time and space available for play across the UK. With these new insights, we must reassess our value of play and work towards encouraging more outdoor play time for children.


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