As a mum and a teaching & learning expert, the wellbeing of children is at the heart of everything I do, so why would I say no to a summer of play?
Because it’s not enough, that's why. It's not a reward to be earned or something to be enjoyed in the warm weather – it's a fundamental right and a necessity for our children – whatever the season.
Following lockdown, a campaign called Summer of Play was launched by a group of child psychologists, paediatricians and educators. They were calling for children to be allowed the time and space to play this summer after months of restrictions.
The campaign suggests that a “summer of play” is required to support children’s mental health, wellbeing and physical development.
It states that “our children deserve a summer filled with play” and makes the argument that without it, further damage could be caused to their mental health and development.
With the summer holidays starting, many parents and professionals will be in full swing ensuring their children get this.
Whilst these are formidable arguments, I have to disagree.
A ‘Summer of Play’ suggests this is a ‘reward’ children are getting for what they have missed out on over the last year. It suggests it is a time-limited exercise and that by the end of the summer, play time is over. And it therefore implies that children’s mental health issues will too be gone.
The notion that play is a reward is one that does not sit well with me.
As a teaching, learning and play expert I have seen throughout my career many times when teachers have said: “Do your work, then you can play.”
Adults often talk about ‘play’ being separate to ‘learning’, but play is learning and play is a vehicle for learning no matter what age you are.
Play needs to be prioritised all year, in all schools, in all year groups. Play needs to be put on the pedestal it deserves and woven into every learning opportunity, not seen as something stand-alone that is done after the work or as a reward.
Children do not deserve play because they’ve been through the pandemic, children deserve to play because it should be a given right of childhood. Play is essential to children’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. Play allows children to escape the structure of their day to day lives and immerse themselves in pleasure and enjoyment. Play develops a child’s sense of self-worth by giving them the freedom to get a sense of their own abilities and to test out and explore skills and knowledge they have learnt.
It is absolutely right, research shows us, that play has a massive role in mental health and well-being, not only of children but adults too.
Play helps children gain confidence, boosts their self-esteem, builds relationships and relieves stress. It is also crucial for their emotional development and allows them to cope with emotions such as frustration, anger or fear in a situation they can control.
Children cannot learn if their mental health is poor and play has a positive impact on children’s mental health. But if we only prioritise play for the ‘summer of play’ then where does that leave our children’s mental health throughout the rest of the year?
The mental health of our children needs to be a never-ending priority, there is nothing more important than the happiness of our children and their wellbeing, both physically and mentally. This is why play needs to be protected and prioritised in our children’s lives, schooling and education.
So, although the Sumer of Play campaign has good intentions, it is not enough.
I am calling for a year of play. A lifetime of play. An absolute given right to play.