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Green

Why do children love to play so much?

By | Education, environment, fun for children, Green, Playing, Summer, Toys
by Tanya Petherick
Class Of Their Own

Children love to play. We know that, but just what is it about play that children love? At this point in an article, you might expect to see a definition of play. As people who study play are fond of saying; play is easy to see, but hard to define. The desire to play is innate. Innate is a word we can define. It means natural, in built, instinctive – in other words, no one needs to, or indeed, can, tell a child how to play. Play can be facilitated by adults, yet it is essentially child-led; children doing what they want with the resources they have available. Think about all the times a young child has been more interested in the cardboard box than the gift inside. Yet, play is not just for toddlers. Children of all ages learn through play. This might be something pragmatic, such as young children playing shops and counting out one apple and two pears, through to older primary-aged children playing card games using more advanced numerical skills.

Children receive a natural satisfaction from play. In academic circles, this is termed intrinsic motivation; a behaviour which is driven by an internal reward – put simply, play is something children want to do. A lot of the time, play is fun. Playing with friends, playing outside, getting wet, staying dry, playing in pairs, playing in groups, playing alone, imagining, making, cutting, sticking, creating, cooking, discovering, exploring – they all sound like great fun. Undoubtedly, one reason children might love play is it can be enormous fun – but it isn’t always. Sometimes play is sad, unfair or physically painful; think about children role-playing sad events, not being included in a group game and that childhood staple of grazed knees.

These three examples alone show how play can prepare children for life as an adult, sad things do happen and developing skills to process these emotions help us makes sense of life, understanding unfairness helps us to process information, and those grazed knees? Well, they teach us to tie up our shoelaces or the need to take more care on the scooter.

Can you remember being bored as a child? Getting part way through the long school holiday and declaring the dreaded “I’m bored” phrase? Being bored, or more importantly, being allowed to be bored, is an important part of a child’s development. It is when children are bored that they make creative use of the resources around them. I can remember ‘ruining,’ in my mum’s words, and ‘making more fun’ in mine, a game of Connect 4 by painting the inside of all the red and yellow circles with different coloured paint and using my new pieces to create a more complex version of the game. Had I not been bored with the original version of the game, I would never have developed my own, more engaging version of the game (I have to confess that this happened years ago, and I am still waiting for Connect 4 to pick up my great idea!). It is the necessity of creativity that results from being bored that can create fantastic fun.

Children have an innate desire to play, are intrinsically motivated to do so, and are creative about it, but does that answer our question about why children love to play? In a way it does. But let’s look at the question from a different angle. Maybe it is less about a child’s desire to play, and more about the associated benefits of play that have kept play at the evolutionary forefront of a child’s development. It is through play that children develop confidence, self-esteem, independence, emotional resilience, physical skills, concentration and creative thinking. Or, put another way, the skills that follow children into adulthood. At a time when children face criticism for being too attached to electronic devices, not doing enough exercise and being ‘over-scheduled’ the benefits of play may seem an overly simplistic response, yet as we have seen, it is through play that children find out who they are, and how the world around them works.

It can be easy to overlook the benefits of your child ‘just’ playing when planning the summer holidays. Allowing a child to follow their individual interests reduces guilt when planning holiday childcare, however, do not feel the need to overschedule children. As a parent or carer in today’s busy world, giving children the time and space to play is one of the best things a parent can do to help their child develop the skills they will need growing up and into adulthood. So, turn off the tablet and let children play in the way you did: on their own, with friends, at a holiday club and don’t forget, you can join in too! Let yourself be led by your child and don’t worry if you can’t remember how to play. It is what children do, so give them 30 minutes of your time and encourage them to choose what you do together – it is invaluable time together, and your child (and you!) will love it, but, also allow them to get bored and get creative – you never know where it will take them!

Class Of Their Own offer high quality, affordable and secure out of school clubs for primary school children aged 4-11. www.classoftheirown.com

Get closer to nature this summer

By | Education, environment, family, Green, Summer
by Cate Jaques, National Trust, Polesden Lacey

One of the things I most enjoy about Polesden Lacey is seeing and hearing children having fun in the gardens and on the wider estate; running, laughing and exploring – experiencing nature, as my friends and I did.

When I was young I was lucky enough to live close to woodland. My friends and I would go exploring in the woods, according to memory, every day (although I’m sure this can’t have been the case –
I vaguely remember being in school occasionally too).

We climbed trees, made dens, built bridges and dammed streams. We loved it.

What my friends and I took for granted seems a less common way for children to play now. There’s even research that indicates that we, as a nation but especially children, might be suffering from something called ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ – a phrase coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: “Nature Deficit Disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”

A report by the National Trust, Natural Childhood, identifies four key benefits of playing outdoors:

Better for health
Playing outdoors can improve physical fitness in childhood, as well as laying the foundations for physical fitness in later life.

Being exposed to nature can even help you live longer. In 2009 researchers at the University of Essex published a report into nature, childhood, and health and life pathways. On one pathway, where children are ‘free-range’, people’s lifespan increases; on the other, where they are kept indoors and have little or no connection with nature, they die earlier.

In fact, regular contact with nature brings an increased level of satisfaction with life in general. A National Trust survey revealed that 80% of the happiest people in the UK said that they have a strong connection with the natural world, compared with less than 40% of the unhappiest.

Better for education
Increased contact with nature improves the way children learn. Child psychologist Aric Sigman found that children exposed to nature scored higher on concentration and self-discipline; improved their awareness, reasoning and observational skills; did better in reading, writing, maths, science and social studies; were better at working in teams and showed improved behaviour overall.

Better for our communities
Studies have shown that even in cases where the only variable is the view of green space from a window, incidences of crime are reduced by as much as 50%.

Better for the environment
We‘re just beginning to grasp the extent to which we depend on the natural world. If we are to protect the world we live in, rebuilding the connections between children and nature is vital.

In the words of David Attenborough: “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”

©National Trust Images Chris Lacey

I hope, if you’ve made it to the end of this article, you’ll be inspired to encourage your little ones to come and see us at Polesden Lacey, go ‘free- range’ this summer, and get closer to nature.

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/polesdenlacey
Information and references taken from the National Trust report Natural Childhood by Stephen Moss, published 2012.