Active, unstructured play is important for mental wellbeing and physical development of a child. The issue is that playtime is declining in many countries around the world. Since 1970 children in the US have lost 12 hours of free time a week, unstructured play has dropped by 25%, and unstructured outdoor activities have dropped by 50% (Source: “Play Matters” study for Kaboom, 2008). While in the UK 40% of kids are banned from playing in their local park without an adult present and 30% are not allowed to ride bike without parental supervision (Source: ICM research for Play England, 2008)
In light of these statistics, the MILO team decided to find out what’s happening in our own backyard, and how playtime in Australia and New Zealand has evolved over the last three generations.
To achieve this the MILO State of Play study was commissioned with over 2,000 parents, grandparents and children surveyed on the topic of play. The research focussed on kids aged between 8 and 12 years, as this is a crucial stage within their development as they move towards their teen years and draw closer to the young adult stage of life.
The research has found that more than 90% of parents agree that play time is an essential part of a child’s development. It is also widely understood by parents and grandparents alike that play time is a great way for children to be physically active, learn social skills, develop their imagination, creativity and problem solving skills.
However, ensuring kids are having enough playtime is low on the list of priorities for parents raising 8 to 12 year old children. Challenges such as teaching respect, manners and morals, and providing a good education are considered more important. These goals, however, may be easier to achieve if their foundations are laid at a young age, and play is an ideal platform to do just that.
Barriers to play
According to the results of the study, more than 45% of children are not playing everyday. It seems there are many factors at work that put barriers in the way of active play.
The State of Play Report identified that lack of inspiration, time pressures and an overreliance on technology were the main contributing factors to decrease in playtime, as:
• 37% of children say they have run out of ideas for play, and 64% of parents and 70% of grandparents believe that kids don’t create their own games as much as they used to.
• Almost half of kids’ free time (47%) is now spent plugged in – watching TV, playing video games or on electronic devices
43% of parents struggle to find time to play with their children, and 44% of children claim they are too tired from school or have too much homework to play.
Playing with your kids
Parents face many challenges in the efforts to raise their children. These include teaching rules and respect, dealing with a child’s attitude, supporting and building confidence in the child and getting them to help out around the house. Many of these challenges are more easily tackled when parents and kids have strong relationships that are established early on. Play is one of the best ways for parents to connect with their children and forge those strong relationships with them.
There is a common misconception that after certain age children want to spend all of their free time with their friends. However, The State of Play Study found that more than half of children actually want to play more with their parents! At the same time most parents listed playing with the kids amongst their most enjoyed activities. However, due to other commitments and time constraints, only 55 percent of mothers and 65 percent of fathers are playing regularly with their children.
The Play Movement aims to encourage families to spend more time together, equipping parents and kids with useful tools, ideas and inspiration to help fit more play into every day.