Value of Play

December 19, 2019

Play brings hugely important benefits to children as individuals, groups, families, communities and society as a whole.

Play holds many a value for children at times of stress or change in their lives. While some of children’s play takes place within play provision and outdoor playgrounds it is important to remember that play happens wherever children are; at home, in the streets, on the way to and inside school. Children are seen to play anywhere and at any time.

The benefits of ensuring that children have access to play opportunities link a number of areas – learning, health, social relationships, family and community. We recognise that play is open-ended, spontaneous and joyful; it is considered an essential expression of childhood. While play continues into adulthood, it has been argued that the immense value of play lies in the early childhood years.

Play in society

Play is a crucial medium for social interaction and for forming, maintaining and negotiating relationships.

Play makes an important contribution to community life. Contact with others in play spaces or play provision can help to provide networks of support to children and families and increase a sense of community cohesion. Where there is a lack of understanding between different members of a community, play and play provision can be a positive integrating factor. A sense of connection to, and participation in, community life underpins development of citizenship amongst young people. The value of adults and children simply enjoying spending time together in playful situations should not be underestimated.

Play for health

Playful interaction between a parent and child begins at the earliest stages of a child’s life and forms a firm foundation for the child’s emotional and physical health. It has been found that play accounts for the greatest proportion of children’s and young people’s physical activity. Play (particularly outdoors) offers a vital opportunity to establish healthy lifestyles.

There is growing concern about the effects of ‘play deprivation’ on children and young people and of the possibility that children’s play is restricted to a degree that is causing them long term harm. Manifestations of this might be incidences of anti-social behaviour, poorer motor skills and less resilience to stressful or traumatic events.

Play in special circumstances

Play is a vital tool in supporting troubled or traumatised children. Play acts as a medium by which the child can express their feelings or anxieties. The act of playing can be therapeutic in nature, helping the child to come to terms with difficult experiences. Careful thought given to the play needs of children and the provision of play space and play things, can alleviate feelings of unease and anxiety.