Despite the heavily researched and well documented integral role of play in the healthy development of children, good quality, true play experiences are increasingly rare in the lives of children today. Good quality, true play experiences are defined by Dr Jennifer Sturgess (2007) as:
“an episode of activity that is child chosen and viewed as play by the child. Each play episode has some or all of the following descriptive characteristics – spontaneous, non-literal, pleasurable, flexible, means-oriented, intrinsically motivated, meaningful, active and rule-governed”.
The benefits of providing children with regular good quality, true play experiences are many, including, children being more likely to:
- Be playful and have fun
- Socialize, consider others and show empathy
- Think outside the box
- Solve their own problems or ask for help
- Discover, practice and master new skills
- Create, innovate and be flexible
- Consider a variety of options and be adaptable
- Communicate and negotiate
- Stick with something until it’s finished
- Be self directed and self regulated
- Develop their imagination.
Some concerning current trends related to play that impact on its true benefits being realised include:
- Increased structured extracurricular/’down time’ activities
- Downward push of academic curriculum to younger age groups
- Reduced time outdoors
- Increased adult supervision of children’s play
- Increase of screen based activities
The above trends are impacting on the amount and quality of children’s play experiences and this has been identified as a major contributing factor to many concerning trends in childhood today in Australia, including:
- Declines in creativity
- Declining academic performance
- Increased obesity and chronic disease rates
- Increased behavioural addiction rates (tech addiction)
- Increased diagnosis rates of ADHD & ADD
- Increased rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions
- Reduced resilience
- Increased rates of ‘failure to launch’.
Schools are in a unique position to provide regular good quality, true play opportunities for their communities through play based curriculum work and play for play’s sake. Lunch breaks alone, account for 15% of a child’s time at school and therefore provide an enormous opportunity to contribute to reversing the above concerning trends. These opportunities are extended further, when we consider the potential for embedding loose parts play into curriculum based activities. Play opportunities in schools (ie time, resources, environment, the role of adults) must be considered carefully to ensure that children become the masters of play (ie child directed, unstructured play), thereby allowing the benefits of play to be fully realised in order to optimise the healthy development and education of children.
Loose parts playgrounds (based on Simon Nicholson’s Loose Parts Theory) provide an easy to implement, low cost, environmentally sustainable solution to the provision of good quality, true play experiences in school environments. It involves providing open ended materials that can be moved, combined, taken apart and redesigned, thereby allowing children the opportunity to do the thinking (ie direct their own play) rather than just trying to achieve a predetermined outcome. Loose parts playgrounds have been successfully implemented in schools, early childhood setting and OSHC programs around the world, including Australia.
How to transform play at your school?
Creating a loose parts playground in your school is a low cost, sustainable yet very powerful solution to support healthy child development and learning. A range of services are available to support schools to set up a loose parts playground and ensure you get maximum benefit from it. These include:
- Jump Up Outdoors
- Play: Big Ideas for Big Lunch training package to understand the why and how of setting up your own loose parts playground
- Supply of loose direct to your door. Supply your own storage or Wearthy has storage options too
- Nature Play Queensland
- theoretical and practical knowledge to embed regular outdoor learning opportunities using loose parts, whilst supporting ACARA and AITSL
Start with a cardboard box of loose parts or redesign your whole playground…for the health and wellbeing of our children, make sure your start somewhere.
Written by Madeline Avci. Mum of three young men. Occupational Therapist. Owner of Jump Up for Kids (including Jump Up Outdoors). Madeline is passionate about making the outdoors part of everyone’s day and supporting families to navigate the challenges of our modern world.