Posted on 29th September 2012
When I was a child, one of my favourite moments in a week was waking up early on a Saturday morning and playing for hours with my sister in our bedrooms. We would always set up elaborate little villages with our Sylvanian families, Barbies and My Little Ponies and come up with all sorts of stories and games. We would let our imaginations run wild, and I look back on those years with great fondness and think about what a special time it was. When people think of the positive aspects of childhood, one of the most prominent features is playtime; hours and hours of fun and carefree creativity.
A few days ago I read a fascinating article by Gillian Sharpe about the development of thinking surrounding children’s playtime, prompted by the fact that campaign groups in Scotland have been calling for children to have a legal right to play.
In her article for the BBC, Sharpe discusses Professor Robert Davis’ views and research on children’s play. He says that although children have ‘always played wherever and whenever they are living’, in the 18th Century there was a big change in the way people thought about play and the way that it defines childhood experience.
It was in the 1700s that Robert Owen, a social pioneer, made sure that no children went to work in the mill at New Lanark, the settlement, which he managed in Lancashire, until they were at least 10. Although this seems terribly young to us now, at the time, elsewhere in the world children would go to work much younger than this. Owen believed that children had a right to play before ‘growing up’ and going to work.
It was also in the 1700s that the first purpose built playgrounds for children were constructed. They were designed so that children had a safe, contained place to have fun and exercise outdoors.
Today children spend a worrying amount of their free time on computers and a recent survey of 13,000 children revealed that 25% of the children were spending up to 12 hours a day on computers. My heart sank when I read this figure. No wonder childhood obesity is on the up if children are sitting behind screens all day, rather than running around in the garden or whizzing around on slides and swings in the park.
There are so many wonderful games and ways to play, which can strengthen social bonds, communication, improve fitness, boost the imagination and intellect in an enjoyable and engaging way. Let’s try and get children away from screens and playing games with their siblings and friends. Do let us know what your favourite childhood games were/are and perhaps we can share them and have a play this weekend.