the power of play

Why Play?

Play Is Important

All children are born with a natural drive to play.

Play is a vital part of childhood and is necessary for every child’s healthy development and overall well-being. 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’s Development

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, build resilience, and 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 adults should take the lead from children and not interfere or control children’s play.

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 is flexible, it can be challenging, full of uncertainty and without an intended aim or goal in mind, but most importantly, play is fun!

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. It can help children to try things out, test boundaries, develop confidence, explore and experiment with the world around them.

Play Matters – Play for Parents Guide offers an in-depth look at why play matters, play throughout childhood, the benefits of play, as well as lots of fun activities to try. Download Play Matters – Play for Parents Guide.

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.

Space to Play, PlayBoard’s design toolkit is an excellent resource that will enable you to gain a better understanding of the need for play and the importance of being creative and inclusive when planning, designing and implementing outdoor play space.

The toolkit is primarily focused on outdoor play space development within registered childcare settings, however many of the underlying principles and approaches outlined are transferable to a range of wider settings. The document is intended to inform all sequential stages of development for any outdoor play project.

Email for more information on how to purchase your copy of the Space to Play toolkit.

Risk-Benefit Approach

What children want from a play space will vary according to their age, interest and abilities. 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 opportunities that are stimulating, challenging and exciting allow 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 Services

As the lead organisation for the development and promotion of play in Northern Ireland, PlayBoard works to ensure every child’s right to play is realised.

Through the services we provide, projects we deliver, and training we offer, PlayBoard strives to deliver a more playful Northern Ireland for all children and young people.

Visit our Play Services page to find out how we can help you meet the play needs of the children you work with.

“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw, Playwright