More structured time means less unstructured play in children's lives
Take a moment to consider from a school-aged child's perspective what it must be like to experience childhood today.
From an early age a child A is enrolled in many different classes after school and for each day of the week is over-scheduled by increasingly anxious parents to gain a competitive edge for their child's educational experience. For child B the nature of the neighbourhood in which they live is simply not safe enough for them to be outdoors and so on most days they remain inside.
In a local school, student achievement data is low resulting in policies stipulating the reduction of time for recess breaks to increase academic time in the district schools so a child C experiences limited opportunity to play outdoors. In another school, a child D has not completed their classroom work, so no play as they are made to complete their work outside during recess.
Children are experiencing less time unstructured free play both indoors and outdoors in their homes with their families and in their schools. As reported in the 2019 World Economic Forum annual meeting there in an increasing "play gap" due to time and space leading to play deprivation for many children across the globe.
As reported in the Real Play Coalition Report (2018), decrease in play is due several reasons including, children's lives being over-scheduled, limited playground access, increased safety concerns of parents and reduced family time.
Play for many children is increasingly in the form of digital play at home. The LEGO® Play Well Report 2018 conducted across nine countries, found that 80% of children surveyed indicated digital play was their favourite form of play. Digital play has changed the way children today play, moving it from outdoors to inside their homes, as found in the study children between 37-58% are spending more than 3 hour per week on digital devices in their homes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated in their report last year an increased focus of academic attainment and readiness for formal schooling has significantly decreased opportunities for children to play in their schools.
In their latest book, "Let the Children Play," authors Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle, suggest the barriers to play in schools are due to Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) resulting in play almost being eliminated from childhood education and replaced by detrimental education practices, e.g. standardised curriculum, high stakes testing, inappropriate instruction in classrooms, reduced recess and narrowing of curriculum.
Increasing pressure for schools situated in the current accountability and achievement driven regimes makes it difficult for teachers to include and promote the provision of play. Rather than promoting children's rights to play current education policies and regulations are cultivating play-adverse cultures in our schools and education systems.
Increasing structured activities and learning in the lives of children means less time for unstructured play. These examples of childhood experiences are not uncommon for children today. The missing element is children have increasingly limited access to unstructured play in their lives.
Children need experiences of unstructured play both inside and outside of their homes and in their schools. For children today, play deprivation is having significant consequences for their learning, growth, health and wellbeing. Play needs to be part of the childhood experience for all children today and everyday.
Some facts regarding play deprivation:
As reported in the Real Play Coalition Report (2018), decrease in play is due several reasons including, children's lives being over-scheduled, limited play ground access, increased safety concerns of parents and reduced family time. Results from the study show that for many children there is less time for play in their lives:
56% of children have less that 1 hour per day of outdoor play
10% of children have less than 2 hours per week of play
8% of children have no play in their lives
47% of children's time is focussed on structured activities
27% of children's time spent on unstructured play
20% of children reported they are too busy to play
The LEGO® Play Well Report 2018 conducted across nine countries, found that 80% of children surveyed indicated digital play was their favourite form of play. Digital play has changed the way children today play moving it inside their homes. The charts below show the percentages of children across the different countries spending significant amounts of time on digital devices and structure activities in their homes.
Chart !: Time spent on technology
Chart 2: Percentage of children with not enough time to play
Chart 3: Break down of average amount of time on weekly activities