We have all seen the worrying statistics on the TV and in the papers. In England, 28% of children aged 2-15 were classified as obese or overweight in 2012. That is one quarter of all children’s. This has obvious short and long term health consequences and is a major worry for parents across the country.

Obviously diet plays a big part in this, but another significant factor in this trend is the ready availability of modern technologies. Studies have shown that 80% of children under six watch up to six hours of TV programmes every day! 7% of children watch even more than that. Almost 60% of children had a TV in their bedroom too.

Add to this the 33% of children aged 5-6 play video games on a regular basis and the astonishing study by www.babies.co.uk that showed that one in seven of more than 1,000 parents admitted that they let babies use gadgets such as iPads and iPhones for four or more hours a day and you have a hugely worrying tale of dependency.

But there is more to it than that. Because as well as leading sedentary, unhealthy lifestyles, we are increasingly seeing a whole generation of youngsters missing out of the great experiences and opportunities which made the childhood of their parents and grandparents so rich and memorable.

Exploring their local environments, learning to use their imagination and be creative, and developing social skills and the ability to interact with other children, and adults, are just a few of the benefits to children of playing the old fashioned way. And studies also show that once they are motivated to do it, modern children enjoy it every bit as much as their forefathers and just as much as using computers and gadgets.

Play offers a simple and enjoyable physical activity, which has a clear range of benefits to both kids and their parents.

For kids:

·       Play can increase their self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-respect

·       Play gives kids the chance to mix with other kids.

·       Play can improve both physical and mental health

·       Play helps kids to increase their confidence and develop new skills

·       Play promotes imagination, independence and creativity

·       Play helps kids to build resilience through risk taking and challenge, problem solving, and dealing with new and different situations

·       Play provides kids with the opportunity to learn about their environment and the wider community.

And for their parents:

  • parents feel more secure knowing that their children are happy, safe and enjoying themselves
  • If kids are fitter and happier, the whole family feels the benefit
  • Play areas, parks and other such facilities are frequently seen as a focal point for communities
  • Play enables social interaction for whole community and supports the development of a greater sense of community spirit, promoting social cohesion
  • Playgrounds, parks and other green spaces are popular with adults taking young children out to play and for older children and young people to spend time together.

Play is fundamental to the development of healthy, well rounded children, and as www.playengland.org should show you, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you may think. There are a wide range of affordable play opportunities right on your doorstep.

Government Investment: The Government has developed its own Play Strategy to ensure Children across the UK have the right to play, and the facilities and open spaces to do so. Alongside this strategy they have invested £235 million into the provision of new play spaces or the refurbishment of old ones.

They have also ensured that Local Authorities across the country have targets to achieve in the provision of play spaces and the satisfaction of children with those spaces.

Play England: The body charged with promoting children playing in England is PlayEngland and they have published a Charter for Children’s Play which sets out eight basic principles of a child’s right to play:

·       children have the right to play

·       every child needs time and space to play

·       adults should let children play

·       children should be able to play freely in their local areas

·       children value and benefit from staffed play provision

·       children’s play is enriched by skilled play workers

·       children need time and space to play at school

·       children sometimes need extra support to enjoy their right to play

The Right to Play: It is now also enshrined into international law that children have the right to play. In 1991 the UK signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 31 of that convention states:

1.       State Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

 

2.       State Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.