Why Is Play Important?

All children are born with a natural drive to play.

Many adults think that play is unnecessary; however play is a vital part of childhood and is necessary for every child’s healthy development. Through play children are able to develop the skills and abilities they will require as they grow older. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity that is fundamental to the healthy growth, development and well-being of individuals and communities.

Play supports children to move through each stage of their development naturally, allowing them to make friends, come to terms with difficulties, follow their instincts, think and learn from others.

Children can play on their own, together with other children or with adults who support them. Loving and caring adults can help children to develop through play. For adults, playing with children helps them to understand the child’s point of view. It builds respect between adults and children and helps them communicate better. Children benefit from joining in playful activities with adults, however if there is too much adult control children do not benefit as much.

What Is Play?

Play is what children and young people do in their own time for their own reasons.

For children, play should be freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people should be able to determine and control their play by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.

Play takes many forms; doing nothing in particular, doing lots, being boisterous, showing off, being contemplative, overcoming difficulties etc. Through play children explore the world and learn to take responsibility for their own choices.

Play can be sociable or solitary, play can help children to climb, swing, gallop and chase. It can help them to try things out, test boundaries, develop confidence, explore and experiment the world around them.

Play Space

Ensuring that every child has access to stimulating play environments throughout their childhood is an important way of supporting their well-being and development.

Children will play anywhere – interesting and challenging play environments can enrich and expand children’s play, generate feelings of well-being and self-worth, and promote positive relationships. It extends a wide range of important possibilities to children: to have contact with nature; to test and expand their interests and abilities; to make their own explorations and discoveries; to play without undue adult involvement; to interact, make change and transform their surroundings.

What children want from a play space will vary according to their age, interest and circumstances. However, in general, children show preference for environments that offer variety, flexibility, natural elements, risk and challenge. Children need and want to stretch and challenge themselves when they play.

Play provision that is stimulating, challenging and exciting allows children to take risks, which helps them to build confidence, learn new skills and develop resilience at their own pace. It also helps equip them to manage risk safety in their lives. A balanced approach to managing risk in play involves thinking about both risks and benefits. Organisations involved in providing play opportunities, should adopt a risk benefit approach.

PlayBoard - Play For Parents Guide - 2019

Play Matters – Play For Parents Guide

Play Safety Forum: Managing Risk In Play Provision - 2014

Play Safety Forum: Managing Risk in Play Provision

Play Safety Forum: Risk Benefit Assessment Form - Worked Example

Play Safety Forum: Risk Benefit Assessment Form

Publication - Space To Play - Playboard NI

Space To Play – PlayBoard NI

Community Parks And Playgrounds - Centre For Excellance In Universal Design

NDA – Community Parks And Playgrounds

ARUP - Cities Alive - Designing For Urban Childhoods - 2017

ARUP – Cities Alive: Designing For Urban Childhoods

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