First: why do kids need to play?
Well, of course, it’s fun — and as we all know, having fun is critical for kids’ psychological wellbeing. But there are also all kinds of documented developmental benefits. For example, play helps children learn how to interact successfully with others and to get better at regulating their emotions. Kids also learn through play: as we discussed in our recent podcast, it helps them to develop concepts and skills, including mathematical concepts and problem-solving, and to stretch each other. If they are running around and navigating obstacles (even if those obstacles are just other kids), it also trains their senses — especially proprioception and their vestibular senses. For all sorts of reasons, it’s vital. In fact, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states clearly that “every child has the right… to engage in play”. In one pre-Covid-19 survey, children in Wales were asked what they would change to make themselves healthier and happier — and more time and space to play and feel safe was a top response.
There are other benefits to playing outside
For one, as supported by a recent paper in Scientific Reports, the increase in myopia (short-sightedness) in many countries has been linked to reduced time spent outdoors in childhood. Regular playtimes in green spaces, such as parks, are also associated with milder symptoms for kids with ADHD. And there could ultimately be environmental benefits from kids spending longer outside, too: work led by Catherine Broom at the University of British Columbia, Canada, has linked time spent outdoors in childhood to a love of nature and concern for the environment in young adulthood.