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Kiwi children deprived of crucial play time

Kiwi children deprived of crucial play time
March 13, 2012

New Zealand children are at risk of weight gain and poor brain development because they are not playing every day, according to a new study.

The Milo State of Play study has found that parents and grandparents believe play is essential for a child's development, but it is rapidly falling off the list of priorities.

The study, the first of its kind to investigate the play habits of New Zealand children aged from eight to 12 years old, reveals that 46% of New Zealand children are not playing every day.

Conducted by Sweeney Research, the study surveyed 168 children aged eight to 12, 406 parents and 152 grandparents that see grandchildren in that age group at least once a month.

The survey showed that a lack of play can deprive children of crucial activity for brain development.

AUT Professor of Public Health Grant Schofield told TV ONE's Breakfast show that active, unstructured play is essential to help children learn important life skills, develop imagination and creativity, form habits and cope in changeable situations.

Schofield stated "playtime is critical to a child's development, especially for eitht to 12 year olds, as it is a time where future social skills are shaped and foundations for strong relationships with parents, grandparents and friends are created."

Schofield, who wrote the foreward for the research report, added that a lack of time and too much reliance on technology were cited by those surveyed as barriers to outdoor play.

In the study, 38% of children said they have run out of ideas for play so turn to electronic devices for amusement.

Almost half of children's free time is spent 'plugged in' - watching TV, playing video games or on electronic devices while 42% of parents struggle to find time to play with their children.

The type of play the study focused on was active, unstructured play - play without rules, timeframes or scheduled training and includes activities such as climbing trees, a spontaneous game of backyard cricket or the creation of a new game with a skipping rope.

The New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA) is backing the findings of the report.

In an interview with Sky News, Chief Executive Andrew Leslie agreed that New Zealand children encounter substantial boundaries around free play, stating "the competition for our children's leisure time is huge – technology, homework and organised recreation or sport activities are just a few of the many factors keeping our kids from playing more.”

However, Leslie believes that New Zealand are lucky to exist in a regulatory environment that is actually conducive to free play and welcomes trends towards the provision of playspaces rather than playgrounds, designed to challenge children; to encourage them to use all of their senses and to experiment, while also actively engaging the communities in which they are located.

Leslie states "we can look to Auckland Council for inspiration. Auckland is part of a national pilot on play, playspaces and the re-design of playgrounds and behaviours of children and caregivers around play."

The importance of getting families out and playing has been recognised and is finding its way into council agendas.

"We are certainly not lacking in resources when it comes to outdoor play in New Zealand.

"Parents and caregivers however have a very important role to play in terms of encouraging more free play. Even with time constraints, it's still achievable for most families to be more active. Parents should realise that just by going into the backyard or down to the local park, they are creating golden moments where they can engage with their children, let them experiment, and let them run free."

Leslie highlights that the report shows we understand the importance of play, with 97% of parents confident that play is "not only important but essential for a child's development."

Leslie concludes "though playtime often drops off the list of priorities, the fact that we appreciate its importance is a great first step towards ensuring our children do get outside and get active more often."

The NZRA is working to support the providers of playspaces by delivering education and networking opportunities, from study tours and workshops to seminars and conferences. As a result of these educational and practical experiences, those working within the play industry in New Zealand are better equipped to provide more suitable play environments for our children.

The Milo State of Play study can be viewed at

Images courtesy of Milo.




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