Research shows that ‘play’ is essential to every facet of a child’s development and unfortunately it’s under attack.
By the time a child is eight, they will have spent a full year sitting in front of a screen, and a report from the Children’s Society shows that one in six children aged between 5 and 16 are likely to be experiencing mental health problems, so now more than ever, it’s crucial that society create opportunities for children to play and connect.
The Royal Parks has been running a three-year play programme in The Regent’s Park and Greenwich Park, and in the wider community, to facilitate outdoor play and help children connect with one other. In these child-led sessions, playworkers help children to do what they do best, to play.
The play programme has been an integral part of the refurbishment of Gloucester Gate and Greenwich Playgrounds, all of which would not have been possible without a generous grant from the London Marathon Charitable Trust
Paul Hocker, director of the charity London Play says: “Children need space and time to play. When a child loses its ability to play, to socialise, they suffer, and that’s what has happened to kids during lockdown, particularly the young teenagers. I know a few people whose older kids are having some sort of mental health crisis.
“London Play has been building go-karts all across London, and the kids come ready to go, and even though they have had over a year of being locked away, they come back to life.
“I’d also like to see the position of a play worker elevated to that of a teacher, as it is in Scandinavian countries, and finally I’d like to see opportunities for play incorporated in whatever we build, whether that’s shopping centres or new flats.”
Panda Gavin play co-ordinator for The Royal Parks says: “A lot of parents who have attended our free play sessions say there are not enough organisations facilitating these type of events. I don’t just mean ‘free’ in the sense of ‘free to access,’ but ‘free play’ as in child-led. It’s so important for play to be self-led and intrinsically motivated because when a lot of us were young, we could play outside and do what we wanted, and free play helped fulfil our developmental needs.
“It is challenging to create a space in which children can play freely, but it’s so important. The ideal scenario is that play work would be redundant, and we would live in a society where children were playing freely.
“We hope that lots of children will make use of our two newly refurbished playgrounds – and will attend some of our play programme sessions.”