Benefits of play – more than just a bit of fun

Ben Harbottle, Sales Director at Timberplay investigates the importance of play.

Many of us associate playing as a way for children to have fun, however playtime holds a series of physical and emotional benefits that give children the necessary skills needed for life as an adult.

A study carried out by PEDAL looked into the importance of play and concluded: “Play in all its rich variety is one of the highest achievements of the human species, alongside language, culture and technology. Indeed without play, none of these other achievements would be possible.”

What is play?

PEDAL have highlighted five fundamental types of human play, each one having its own learning opportunity.

Physical play – supports resourcefulness and independence, increase in vitamin D when playing outdoors, keeping fit and healthy.

Play with objects – children set themselves goals and challenges, they monitor their progress, develop an increasing repertoire of cognitive and physical skills and strategy. It is associated with the production of speech, where children commentate on their activity.

Symbolic play – This type of play supports a child developing technical ability to express and reflect upon their experiences, ideas and emotions.

Pretence or socio-development – High-quality pretend play has repeatedly been shown to be very closely associated with the development of cognitive, social and academic abilities.

Games with rules – As well as helping children to develop their understandings about rules, young children are learning a range of social skills related to sharing, taking turns, understanding others’ perspectives.

The amount of time being spent playing has also being researched and has come under question. John Goodwin, head of Lego Foundation recently stated that children will lack the work skills they need in the future because they are not spending enough time playing.

PEDAL have identified this lack of play time is the result of several factors. “The opportunities and support for children’s play, which is critical to their development and abilities they need as future citizens are under threat. This arises from increasing urbanisation, increase stress in family life and from changes in education systems.”

There is concern that children, largely as a consequence of the pressures of urban living, with the loss of natural environments do not have the opportunities for outdoor physical play that supports their developing independence, resourcefulness and self-regulation.

New housing developments are the key to ensuring green spaces are taken into consideration in future projects. ZHD Architects along with NHBC Foundation carried out a study into the importance of including dedicated play areas. The study ‘Making Spaces for Play’ focused on seven housing developments across England, looking at how the design characteristics of the neighbourhoods influenced the amount of play.

Results of the study showed that the overall social use of space may increase by 50 per cent or more on housing developments where child-friendly approaches are incorporated. The study puts forward an approach that would encourage housebuilders to consider play at the earliest stages of design.

Play England has stated that the most successful urban play environments are adventure playgrounds which are set up so children can adapt them and build their own spaces – mainly using a range of natural and man-made building materials.

Timberplay products are designed to suit a natural environment. The structure of the equipment is a mixture of wood, including Mountain Larch and Robinia, both slow growing species with close rings which ensures higher stability and enhanced durability, and Oak, and Steel.

The products also fit perfectly within urban surroundings, bringing with it a touch of nature which offers a nice contrast within a housing development.

Dr David Whitbread of Cambridge University and PEDAL said: “What is increasingly recognised within the research and policy communities, however, is that one vital ingredient in supporting healthy intellectual, emotional and social development in young people, is the provision of play opportunities.”

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