14/10/15 – Working Group Report – Play

Speakers: Tony Hicks, LeapFrog Toys,  Mark Hardy, Chairman, Association of Play Industries, Dr. David Whitebread, University of Cambridge

14 October 2016 – meeting notes

All-Party Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood

Launch of the 4th Working Group Report on Play

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Chair: Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham

Baroness Benjamin opened the meeting, welcoming attendees, launched the report and introduced the speakers.

Tony Hicks

Children thoroughly engage with technology – Leapfrog technology toys have a huge educational element. At our core, Leapfrog make fun things educational, this is very exciting. Used in a safe and positive way, technology can be good for children.

Leapfrog welcomes the recommendations around teacher training and how technology can add value in the educational forum with the development and use of toys included in primary school teaching.

There is a role in technology to keep children quite active – Leap TV- video gaming system helps children get active. There is also a fun children’s activity tracker.

We are passionate about the report. We believe in balance of technology, play and the whole child development. We are glad to see that government give advise on how technology can be used in play. We’ll be excited to see how new apps work.

Mark Hardy

The document is comprehensive, I was struck by the breadth of the input; there is a holistic approach and it looks at a variety of input. That said, there are some disagreements with what is said; two faults come out:

Point one: active kids become active adults. The playground equipment market is £200 million, a small figure given the root cause of inactivity in children.

Point two: as a species, we are hard-wired to play. If children are given the opportunity, they will play. Our grandparents wanted more opportunities for our parents, our parents wanted more for us and we want more for our children. We have to ask, are there more opportunities for our children now?

If not, what are we going to do with that?

Dr. David Whitebread

The report is powerful, so many different people contributed to the report, I salute Helen Clark for pulling together such an extraordinarily powerful document. I am delighted that the group exists.

It is very evident that we now have a crisis in play in the UK and in some developed countries. It is a sad and worrying fact that opportunities to play are lessening.

Play is a significant and important element in simple mammals. We see in research that even mice learn crucial things through play. With a mouse that is social with play, we see a particular part of the brain develops. In the mouse that played with toys we see a separate part of the brain develops; that of problem-solving skills.

Peter Gray wrote research on how children are treated in hunter-gatherer society. Children who play 24/7 grow up to be skilful adults able to survive. Much of their play is what adults do. In a healthy society, children engage in play. In anthropologist’s analysis of modern Britain “play” is entirely dysfunctional. There are serious consequences to that. The good news is that more and more people are looking into this area. This is going to be a turning point. We (at the research centre) have an example of work in primary school. We had a great year with a year six class, they played; they were taught through playful activities. They learned a lot.

We are now in a situation where play ends at the end of pre-school. We have a serious concern about what we are doing to our young children in education.

On the issue of risk I am proud that there is a whole section on risky play, it is brave and important to include this in the report. Watch children play unsupervised; they are naturally inclined to explore the limits.

There is resurgence in an interest in play at the policy and research level.

There is circumstantial evidence that children playing when they are young become more playful adults, there needs to be more research on this.

The Lego Foundation has donated to the Pedal Centre on Play, Education and Learning; providing funding for serious scientific research into play. As an example: one project on a playful approach to writing showed significant improvements from this work.

Baroness Benjamin: If children are to be exposed to risk there needs to have been a risk assessment, the report is not saying let children run wild. The fundamentals are that we want what is best for children; we are not advocating putting children in danger.

Questions and comments

Having attended a US play coalition meeting a few years ago, the question is: what powerful friends and voices are there behind play in the UK?

Mark Hardy: The sector is disjointed across Play England/Wales etc, inevitably because of a lack of funding. The sector needs to get its act together. There is a desire that this report lifts all the boats. We agree with the report’s last recommendation: the need for a Cabinet level Minister for children.

There is a need for integration between all groups. A “National Play Council” as a cross section of the industry would be a voice for play. This, report, is as good a starting point as any.

Young children’s outdoor space and play happens less and less. Continuous and ongoing testing children’s limits time to play.

Risky play is important because it builds resilience. It’s notable that in some Scandinavian countries children are playing in the woods until 7, whilst British children are holding pens at 4.

Dr. David Whitebread: Recently the Secretary of State posted on children’s mental health on social media on; proposing that teachers be trained to teach children about mental health. This missed the point that what is being done in schools can result in mental health issues for children.

Baroness Benjamin: Society itself is disrupting children’s mental health. We need to start thinking differently, the whole of society, it’s our responsibility.

The best way for children to come to terms with mental health issues is to play with other children.

Baroness Benjamin needed to leave the meeting at this point

There is now a good approach to play (e.g. the risk, benefit analysis). Let’s stop using the term “risky play”. News reporting of the report is skewed. We need to find smarter ways to communicate this idea of play.

The term “challenge” in play as a positive word, rather than “risk”.

The Anji schools in China have adopted a philosophy of on outdoor play in “material-based play” which is astonishing.

Opel platinum schools include things such as lunchtime fire club, there is a surprising level of play in England.

The meeting ended at this point.

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