Have we forgotten how to play?

Have we forgotten how to play?

18th March 2018 26 By Rachael Stray

You don’t have to look very far to see children of varying ages with their heads bent totally engrossed with whatever is on their electronic device these days and I have to admit this makes me a little sad.

Two boys playing on smart phones

Two boys playing on smart phones

A couple of weeks ago I was travelling to London by train and sat opposite me was a mother and her young daughter (she was about three years old).

The journey from Newcastle to London is quite long for anyone – never mind a young child – and the train was very hot and stuffy.

It can’t just be me who finds trains are either too warm or too cold?

Anyway, mum had come prepared for the journey with snacks and an iPad to keep the little one entertained.

Much to my surprise other than the iPad there wasn’t anything else for her to play with – no books to read or a colouring book to complete or any travel games of any description.

The little girl watched many different kiddie friendly programmes but after an hour or so she got understandably bored and restless; as I’m sure any young child would do and became agitated.

Of course I’m not a mother – and it is every parents prerogative how they look after their child – but I couldn’t help feel my frustration levels rising as our journey continued – not at the little girl but her mum as she continued to scroll through her phone as the girl got increasingly more agitated.

Now before anyone says it, I too am guilty of getting lost down the rabbit hole of social media but I don’t have a little one to keep entertained.

I’ll say it again I’m not a mother so who am I to judge – no one of course – but as a child who travelled by public transport a lot when I was younger (this was before the age of digital devices such as iPads) my parents kept me entertained the old fashioned way.

Colouring in with crayons

Colouring in with crayons

So this got me thinking have we forgotten how to play?
Have we forgotten how to play
When I was little and we travelled on public transport we would play I spy, the 21 nil game (looking for people who look like celebrities and if they did you would get 21 nil – a game my dad made up) or the Polo game (who can make a Polo mint last the longest) or I would draw and colour in an activity book.

I was (basically) an only child until I was ten; so I was used to playing by myself and getting lost in my own world of make believe and being an avid reader I’ve always been happy to get engrossed with a good book for several hours.

When I was younger I remember spending the summer holidays outside as much as I could (weather permitting in the North East of course). We played British Bulldog, hide and seek, kerbs and we went for bike rides. We weren’t cooped up inside our bedrooms with our eyes glued to a screen all day every day.

I bet if you look out into your street at the weekend you too will rarely hear the sound of children playing. I’m hoping come the warmer weather and longer lighter days and evenings that this will change.

Children playing

Children playing


The importance of play

Play is an essential part of every child’s life and is vital for the enjoyment of childhood as well as social, emotional, intellectual and physical development – say the experts and I firmly believe this too.

When children are asked about what they think is important in their lives, playing and friends is usually at the top of the list – it certainly was for me!

According to the charity Play England research shows that play has many benefits for children, families and the wider community, as well as improving health and quality of life.
Recent research suggests that children’s access to good play provision can:

  • increase their self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-respect
  • improve and maintain their physical and mental health
  • give them the opportunity to mix with other children
  • allow them to increase their confidence through developing new skills
  • promote their imagination, independence and creativity
  • offer opportunities for children of all abilities and backgrounds to play together
  • provide opportunities for developing social skills and learning
  • build resilience through risk taking and challenge, problem solving, and dealing with new and novel situations
  • provide opportunities to learn about their environment and the wider community.

Evidence is also available that outlines wider benefits of play provision for families and communities, suggesting that:

  • parents can feel more secure knowing that their children are happy, safe and enjoying themselves
  • families benefit from healthier, happier children
  • buildings and facilities used by play services are frequently seen as a focal point for communities
  • it offers opportunities for social interaction for the wider community and supports the development of a greater sense of community spirit, promoting social cohesion
  • public outside spaces have an important role in the everyday lives of children and young people, especially as a place for meeting friends
  • parks and other green spaces are popular with adults taking young children out to play and for older children and young people to spend time together.

Did you know a child’s right to play is a human right?

On 1 February 2013 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted a General Comment that clarifies for governments worldwide the meaning and importance of Article 31 of the Convention on the Right of the Child

Article 31 (Leisure, play and culture) says children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities.


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I’d be interested to know what you think – have we forgotten how to play? Are we all too reliant on electronic devices for our entertainment – both children and adults? And what games did you play when you were a child?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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