Have we forgotten how to play?

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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19 thoughts on “Have we forgotten how to play?

  1. Ritu says:

    Oh Rachael, as a preschool teacher, and a mother I have SO MUCH to say on this one!
    Yes technology is important in the grander scheme of things, that’s the way the world is headed, but we don’t encourage the use of it in Nursery as there are kids who would spend the whole 3 hours there in an ipad or computer! We feel that they need to be encouraged to play with one another, and learn about social skills and interaction with others, as most of them speak later than the usual norm because they are muted by this electronic dummy from such a young age!
    I actually wrote a post before on our presence rather than presents as parents would be more valuable for kids nowadays!
    At our Sikh weddings, you have to sit quietly in a temple for around 3 hours, difficult for adults, almost impossible for kids! I always had (and still have in my bag) paper and pens or colouring pencils, so my own kids would be kept busy. We would end up with a little crowd of children all wanting to draw as no one else was prepared!
    The worst thing I saw was one day, at the key part of the wedding ceremony, someone gave their kid a phone to keep them busy, and suddenly, at full volume, we had the Peppa Pig theme tune blaring out!
    Seriously?! no consideration?! at least have earphones, or mute it!!
    Sorry, I could go on and on….

    Liked by 1 person

    • rachaelstray says:

      Thanks Ritu for your wonderful comment. I’m not alone in seeing this then. What has happened? Are we all slaves to devices? It’s fantastic to hear that at nursery the devices are not encouraged. I think play is just so important for children’s development and social skills like you say. I wish I had three hours a day to play! I wouldn’t spent it on a device.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ritu says:

        We have one PC, because it’s a bit of a requirement, but other than that, it is all practical play, and books!
        I know, personally, I am using my phone or Surface a lot, but I try to balance it out so I am interacting with reality too, and I would never put Social Media ahead of my family !!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. LaurenEph says:

    Completely agree with you Rachael. Like you, im not a mother so try not to judge but I do think kids are missing out on books, colouring books and other games and activities. Thought provoking post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. thebeasley says:

    I do think this is an issue. There is a balance to achieve here. They need to be technologically savvy and you don’t want to completely cut them off from having fun online, but screen time shouldn’t be so much that’s it detrimental to their social and creative development. One way we’ve tried to restrict screen time is that we don’t allow any electronics in her bedroom. No iPad, phones, TV. One of my husband’s colleague actually told him they thought it was child cruelty that we did this! But this colleague has their 3yr old child alone in their bedroom on the iPad the whole time she’s home. How can they develop all the essential life skills if that’s all they do?! Also, I know this sounds harsh, but what’s the point of having a kid if that’s all you get them doing! So anyway, we figured this electronic ban in her room forces our kid to read, write & play whilst in her room and she does. It’s so lovely in the morning when she runs into our room and announces she’s “written three stories this morning”! instead of just reaching for the iPad as soon as she’s woken up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • rachaelstray says:

      I think you’re right definitely a balance. Technology is a huge part of the world now so cutting children off is absolutely not the way but we shouldn’t just give them devices. They need to be able to use their imaginations too. I like your approach. Blue lights from screens impact our sleep so I think you’re right to not have them in the bedroom. Love your approach!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. angelanoelauthor says:

    My parents talked about the “electronic babysitter” of the TV back in the 80s. But today’s electronic babysitters are far more. I think they’re like the kids you hire to watch your child who are secretly casing your house for valuables. In other words, they serve a purpose in the short term, but will rob us all later.
    I do allow my child an iPad on long car trips. But we regularly take breaks during the drive. We listen to podcasts together and discuss them (WoW in the World is our favorite). Or we play a version of the “license plate” game. Where we try and find words we can make from the letters on license plates. But, the truth is, the iPad is the easiest means of free time for adults where we don’t need to entertain the young ones. We are stretched so thin with work stress and home stress that trying to play with kids after work can feel like “just one more thing.” I personally do not allow iPads and video games or even TV on school nights. We play games and do puzzles. But it’s not easy, honestly. The path of least resistance is the electronic babysitter, and it’s so very very tempting.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. April Munday says:

    Your mention of I Spy reminded me of a family holiday in Italy a few years ago. There were too many of us for one car, so I drove my two nephews, then about 21 and 16 (so not children, but definitely able to play). On many of our journeys through Tuscany we played I Spy or made up silly names for cars. One day I think we even sang ‘One man went to mow’ – the version where each man brings something new with him.

    Play creates memories. I don’t think doing things on an iPad does that.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. holding arrows says:

    Hi Rachael
    Loved this blog. We are a family of 6 kids and Catherine my better half is writing a 5 part series on positive parenting have a read and let us know your thoughts.
    holdingarrows.com
    Bless you for you thoughts

    Liked by 1 person

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