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The significance of play for holistic health and wellbeing

With the pandemic impacting children’s opportunity to play, we backed the co-ordinated initiative #SummerOfPlay, which called for play to be prioritised to support children’s overall health and wellbeing. 

Sutton Smith (2002) linked play to children’s ability to regulate their emotions and develop self-regulation properly.  According to PACEY (2019), self-regulation is complex but can be simply described as the ability to manage energy states, emotions, behaviour, and attention in a socially acceptable way. Self-regulation helps us to: 

  • Plan 
  • Think 
  • Problem solve 
  • Interact with others 
  • Monitor and control our own behaviour. 

Good self-regulation involves adjusting behaviour appropriately depending on context.   

A positive attitude toward learning develops from healthy emotional development, confidence, and wellbeing. Personal, social, and emotional development (PSED) is part of the four guiding principles of the statutory framework for the Early Years Foundation stage.  

Self-regulation is now an Early Learning Goal (ELG) at the end of the reception year. Children can develop self-regulation through constructive play with others as they begin to regulate their own behaviour appropriately.  

Managing Self, another ELG, further relates to play as children can show independence and perseverance in challenging play environments.  

Managing Relationships, a further aspect of PSED, is about developing co-operation with others. Sharing while playing helps children to manage relationships, as they learn how to show sensitivity to each other’s needs as they take turns. Developing PSED through play strengthens attachments and helps children develop well throughout life.  

Investing in children’s play is one of the most important aspects of improving children’s health and wellbeing.

Hughes’ Physical Activity Guidelines (2006: 79) discusses the potential consequences of play deprivation. Children can experience damage to their identity, social reference points, neurological development and even their potential to evolve. 

Play is recognised as a Child’s Right according to the UN (1992 Article 31). Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has seriously impacted children’s opportunity to play. We backed the co-ordinated initiative #SummerOfPlay from Save the Children, Play England, Play Scotland, PlayBoard Northern Ireland, playfirstuk, Playing Out and Play Wales. The campaign called for play to be prioritised in the summer of 2021 to support children’s health and wellbeing as they recover from the effects of the pandemic. 

If physical activity were a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure, due to the great many illnesses it can prevent and help treat.

UK Chief Medical Officer’s Physical activity guidelines