Why is play important?

As adults, there’s a sense of nostalgia about the great days of play in New Zealand, of kids roaming free, with total abandonment. “Be back by dark” was the call as we raced out the door into another day of adult-free adventure, discovery, challenges – and most importantly, fun. 

Whether it was the rural countryside, newly developing suburbs, the school grounds or our backyards, these spaces were ready-made play spaces. We played our way to school, to sports practice and club gatherings, and we were free to get there on our own. 

Through play we determined where in the world we were, and who and what else we shared it with – it was where we practised our future life. With this came an understanding of the value of the relationship we have with our physical environment, and this has directly and indirectly shaped the physical literacy of our children to be active for life. We were socially connected at a young age, playing across whole neighbourhoods. Limited adult involvement meant we learned to make our own decisions, including measuring risk – we learned through trial and error. 

As physical environments have changed over the years, children have come to play less often and in different ways. So, how are we supporting our kids to navigate their new physical environment? Especially in a climate of mass urban development, when more often than not the needs of children’s play is not considered or planned for.