Defending Play – The Professional’s Role

9th August 2022

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“Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities.” (Article 31, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989)

Children have a right to play, but reports suggest children have less time and freedom to play than previous generations.[2] We know play has many benefits for children’s physical and mental health and learning. How can we, as professionals, defend play?

Why does play need to be defended?

Play is a word we use frequently in schools and settings. We have play time, free play, adult-led play, role-play and risky play, but is play really given the status it deserves? There are concerns that free play is under threat as children spend more time on structured activities such as homework, extracurricular clubs, and classes.[3]

“Play stands at the centre of human development, especially in the formative years, but its importance has to be defended by each generation anew, often on different grounds.”[4]

Concerns about ‘catching up’ and achieving goals can lead to approaches which squeeze play, especially free play, out of children’s lives. Play times are shortened or play viewed as something that is the opposite of work and fitted in only if adult-directed activities have been completed.

Parents look to trusted professionals for guidance about supporting their child and as they see more formal academic approaches in school, they begin to doubt the value of play.

As parents hear more about the importance of school readiness, or become aware of baseline assessments, the phonics test and SATs, they seek information about how best to support their child.

Parents are left wondering if they need these flashcards to teach their children letter sounds, or books to practise writing, and whether they should get an app for their child so they can learn to count.

Various products are marketed to parents with the promise of being ‘educational’ or getting your child ahead, leaving confused parents wondering if they risk their child being ‘behind’ if they don’t buy one.

As professionals working with children and families, we can defend play and ensure children’s time to play is valued and protected.

How can professionals defend play?

Professionals can defend children’s play both within settings or schools and by sharing the value of play with families.

As we start a new academic year, why not pause and think about the moments of play that you can protect for children? Does your routine protect time for free play?

When you speak to parents, talk to them about their children’s play – you can help parents to notice how play supports their child’s development.

Think about the information shared with parents. When you send ideas home, do these ideas support play?

If you ask parents to tell you about what their children are doing at home, do you ask them to tell you about their child’s play? Simply asking the question shows the importance you place on children’s play.

As trusted professionals, we can support families to understand the importance and value of play. We can make the value of play visible in our interactions with families. We can use our knowledge and experience to defend children’s right to play and resist the squeeze on their play time.

My First Five Years is an app for parents which gives information and play ideas to help them support their children’s development. We are here to help parents cut through the noise and understand what really supports their child.

Our award-winning app is currently free to download click here.

My First Five Years will be attending Childcare & Education Expo Midlands – make sure you go and say hello at their Stand C36, Alistair will be there for meet and greets and photo opportunities! Special guest Alistair Bryce-Clegg, Co-Founder of My First Five Years will also be treating us to two sell-out seminars over the two-day event focusing on children’s wellbeing and Continuous Provision. Make sure to book your seat before they are all sold out!

Why attend Childcare & Education Expo?

Join over 2,500 like-minded individuals from the early years & primary sector who are dedicated to improving their practice and their education settings.

Attend educational seminars and panel discussions to credit your CPD

Meet the experts to have your questions answered

Receive fantastic onsite offers and discounts

Experience expert-led informative hands-on workshops

Network with peers and industry players

Pick up hundreds of new products, resources, ideas and services

And most of all, enjoy a great day out with your colleagues

100+ exhibitors | 1000s of industry players | 100s of experts