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Children play with everything and at all times

According to a Famosa research, children incorporate play into all their daily activities

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Dos de las niñas que participaron en el estudio de Famosa

Children interact with the world by playing, as this is the way they interpret and relate to their environment, according to a research by the toy maker Famosa in collaboration with the Toy Technological Institute AIJU.

This study examines how is the daily life of Spanish children up to 11 years in rural and urban environments, and how much time they spend playing. The data obtained from surveys of 52 households was also contrasted with the opinion of 38 experts, in order to analyse the correspondence between the ideal situation and the reality of these families.

Children are constantly playing

The main conclusion of this research is that children try to introduce playing elements in all their daily activities, but simply because, as noted, it's their way of interacting with their environment. As explained by José de la Gándara, CEO of Famosa, "a way to recognize a healthy child is because he plays. The game helps the kid to develop properly and healthy."

For example, children sleep with stuffed animals, bathe with their toys and also play during car trips. The only time that experts prefer to exclude the presence of toys and games is during meals.

Less free time

However, children do not play as much as they should and in fact parents encourage the abandonment of playing activities. Adults have the impression that children spend all their time playing, but this is only because kids include (or at least they try to include) play activities during other moments. But they only devote exclusively to play about two hours a day, three in the case of children under three years. To put this figure in context, they also spend an hour and a half doing homework and just over an hour watching TV.

In fact, the research found an excess of extracurricular activities, despite experts believing that children between 3 and 6 should spend more time just playing, as this activity is not a waste of time, but an essential part of the child's development.

This is a global trend: for example, the US American Academy of Pediatrics (pdf) warns that the overload of activities can cause anxiety and contribute to depression. Similarly, a study by Play England (pdf) highlights that British children have nine hours a week less of free time compared to 25 years ago, a figure that reaches 12 hours in the case of American children.

If we translate these figures to the Famosa research, this would mean that Spanish children could spend between three hours and a half and four hours and a half playing every day twenty years ago, compared to the current two to three.

An activity for the whole family

Parents are concerned about the time they spend with their children. Not surprisingly, children spend more time with their teachers than with their parents. In this sense, María Costa, Director of the Pedagogy Area of AIJU, explains that many parents who have been forced to reduce their working hours or who have lost their jobs, welcome the opportunity to spend more time with their kids, despite the economic consequences of this situation.

In fact, according to all experts, it's important that parents spend time playing with their sons and daughters, an activity increasingly difficult given the labour and economic needs of families. Actually, a research commissioned by Disneyland Paris revealed that 20% of British parents do not know how to play with their children and one third feel that family activities and games are boring.

However, most parents are aware that they need to play with their kids in order to help their development and improve the relationship between them –and also because it’s fun. According to a Hasbro study, 86% of fathers and mothers play with their children during a weekly average of about eight hours. Anyway, it is also true that 54.2% of parents only spend between one and five hours a week playing with their kids.

Differences between rural areas and cities

There are some differences in regard to rural and urban areas, according to the Famosa report. Children living in cities have up to three extracurricular activities per week; while in rural areas about 50% of children don’t have any. This means that city children have less time to play during weekdays.

Kids from urban areas have access to electronic devices earlier: 66% of children between 3 and 6 use computers or consoles, while this percentage drops to 16% in small towns. The proportion of children connected to the internet is also higher in big cities.

In this respect and according to the mentioned Play England research, many experts suggest that new technologies are stealing more time from TV than from traditional toys, but the fact is that children are leaving aside toys at younger ages in favour of video games and social networks.

Children in rural areas also spend more time playing in parks, but not in streets. Though children play outside more in small towns, families don't consider streets a place to play anymore.

Another Play England research confirms that kids play less outdoors. According to this survey, 72% of parents spent as children more time playing outside than indoors, while in the case of their sons and daughters the percentage drops to 40%. One in ten British kids have not even ridden a bike ever.

The benefits of play

All experts agree that play is essential, as it helps children to develop physical, cognitive, linguistic and social skills. As noted in a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.”

Playing should also be part of the educational environment because it “ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development”
There are researches that in fact show how playing reinforces learning. For example, a research by the Economic and Social Research Council explains that the pressure for children to start formal education at increasingly early ages leads to worse learning, as this kind of teaching has nothing to do with the characteristics of younger children -these kids need and want to make friends and use their imagination.

As the Famosa research indicates, children relate to the world by playing, or, in other words, from a child's point of view, if you can't play with it, it simply doesn’t exist.

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