Children's Free Play explored the role of play in pre-school and beyond, and the impact that overlooking this in education has seen over the last thirty years, with increased childhood mental health and obesity problems and poorer cognitive, emotional, and psychological capabilities.
In 2008 the Children's Society reported that 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) had a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70% of them had still not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early stage. Heads Together tell us that more than 1 in 5 children are overweight or obese when they begin school and almost 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.
Dr David Whitebread from Cambridge University 'grew up in a very different era' where as a kid he was packed off to ‘play out’ for the day and wouldn’t return until teatime. I relate to that as, similarly to most kids back in the 1950s and 1960s, after having been taken to infant school once or twice you then took yourself. I had a friend who was waiting for heart surgery due to a birth defect and two of us would take it in turns to push her there and back in a trolley.
Dr Whitebread tells us about how experiments have demonstrated that adults who don’t know how to play with their kids are less successful parents. Hovering supervision over children gives little wriggle room for them to test their boundaries and take risks. He recommended that instead of telling kids not to do something because it's dangerous, like rolling down a hill, we positively encourage them and do it together. Whitebread mentions that some early learning classes have discarded play areas in schools, which bypasses an opportunity to harness a child's creative imagining. Task-based projects, by contrast, give a wider brief to incorporate multiple subjects, develop better reasoning skills, and a passion for enquiry.
Dr Whitbread informs us that brain development regarding games and their rules starts as early as three. He shares a video to demonstrate how some little kids of this age invent a game which incorporates an unspoken rule of lining up in an orderly fashion to walk through a puddle of water. And that when slightly older, children will spend more time negotiating the rules than they will playing the game itself. Roughly 80% of brain development is completed by age three and 90% by age five. A study in Jamaica which taught mothers to play with their children and twenty years later the results showed that those children were comparatively better adjusted, committed less crime and were earning 25% more than children who didn't get the learning through play intervention. Dr Whitebread's talk shows the ripple-effect that not prioritising 'play' is having on society as a whole and why policy makers MUST take these hazardous indicators more seriously.
- Jane Unsworth
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
All Work and No Play - The Atlantic
Unstructured Play is Critical for Kids - Mother.ly
Play is Vital for Children’s Mental Health and Wellbeing - KidsMatter.edu
Policy Resources - Young Minds