The power of play
Play is a universal human experience; each of us will have some fond memories of play. Will this generation, and the next be able to look back with the same fondness?
Across Aotearoa and internationally, the evidence shows that play experiences are becoming less common and accessible for many of our tamariki.
The Persil State of Play report showed barely 6% of kiwi kids regularly do activities like tree climbing, rough and tumble games, playing using things naturally found outside like sticks and timber, playing with messy mud, sand or water or riding bikes and scooters.
So if our kids aren’t out playing then what are they doing? In a recent Otago University “Kids’Cam” study 11-12 year olds wore cameras to document their daily activities. They found that children spent more time at food retail outlets than at structured sport and in outdoor recreation locations combined.
Add that to the health data on screen time, which shows 56% of children in Lower Hutt watch more than two hours of TV each day, and it becomes very obvious how our children spend their time.
As a society we’ve engineered physical activity out of our daily lives and something has to change. Our children need the time, space and permission to have quality play experiences. What can we do together to create the opportunity and support for this vital part of a child’s life.
So why do we care?
Play is important because it allows tamariki to experience fun, joy and laughter in a way that is important to them. It is also how they keep active and develop physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. Play is where children practice life.
Healthy Families Lower Hutt, Hutt City Council and Sport NZ decided it was time to take action for our neighbourhoods and kick started “Play in the Hutt”.
Guided by Sport NZ’s seven Principles of Play, Play in the Hutt forms the foundation for mahi that advocates the importance of play for Lower Hutt’s young people and works to increase access and opportunities for play in our communities. We see play as the foundation of physical literacy and know quality play experiences are vital for our tamariki.
Initially, Play in the Hutt is focusing on finding out the state of play in three representative neighbourhoods; Naenae, Alicetown and Tirohanga. Through pop up street parties, door knocking and surveys we’re asking tamariki and their whānau not just how and when they play, but what their barriers and enablers for play are.
The early insights are sobering:
One young boy said “This is the first time playing on the street with my neighbours. I never met them before. Now, I know that boy and that other boy. They live on the street around the corner”.
When others were asked what they do to play the response was commonly “I just sit on my couch and watch YouTube”.
Wider whānau are noticing the differences in their neighbourhoods too, “Lots of kids walk through here on their way to school, but people don’t stop to play anymore”
The most common barriers that parents and caregivers report include concerns with traffic and speeding and a heightened perception of risk around strange people in the neighbourhood.
Although challenging, these barriers can be addressed through play friendly urban design, community building and place making.
While it is early days and we have a lot to learn, there is exciting potential to transform how we collectively design and use our neighbourhoods. We can create spaces and places that support our tamariki to get outside, be active and play, making any space a play space. By taking action to enable play we can together increase the physical, social and emotional and cognitive wellbeing of our children.
We have the opportunity to turn the tide on the current trends and instead support our young generations to thrive and reach their potential.
Imagine if our neighbourhood places and spaces supported our tamariki to get outside, be active and play.