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July 7, 2016


Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. There is a vast number of scholars, organisations and institutions that advocate the importance of play. For example, on 12 May 2011, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Early Years Learning in the European Union, which notes that the early years of childhood are critical for children’s development and highlights that ‘in addition to education, all children have the right to rest, leisure and play’. Play offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children and spend quality time with them.

Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, free play has been markedly reduced for many children. This is because of a variety of reasons. For instance, many cities suffer from a limited number of play spaces available to children and many areas, especially in large cities are now considered unsafe because of increased violence or other environmental dangers. Moreover, both parents are now working long hours and thus find themselves unable to devote time to play with their children or take them to the nearest park or playground. The expressions ‘time crunch’, ‘time poor’, ‘time squeeze’ and ‘time famine’ have routinely been used in the popular and academic press to characterise today’s families. However, despite less availability, some parents appear to have been able to preserve the time that they spend with their children by ‘taxing’ other activities, including sleep. Another reason for children’s reduced free play is associated with the idea of parents as important gatekeepers of children’s physical activity. It may be that opportunities for children’s active free-play are restricted due to parental concerns regarding safety and other factors. However, it should be noted that the National Playing Fields Association report (2000) concludes that risk taking in playgrounds is both natural and desirable. In addition, the Play Safety Forum (2002) expresses the view that any injury is distressing for children and those who care for them, but exposure to the risk of injury, and experience of actual minor injuries, is a universal part of childhood. Such experiences also have a positive role in child development. When children sustain or witness injuries they gain direct experience of the consequences of their actions and choices, and through this an understanding of the extent of their abilities and competences.



However, it should be noted that any playground, be it outdoors or indoors, requires the presence of an adult who will be there to supervise a child’s free play. Generally, parents should be cautious with their children’s free play and should make sure they never leave them unattended. Young children are adventurous and risk-takers by their very nature and do not have sense of danger. This is why parents should not only protect their children by getting them to wear knee pads, elbow pads, protective helmets and the like, but also they should explain to them what they mean by danger, making them understand why it is important to wear such safety gear.

Children who are not engaged in play and physical activity outside of school hours spend time engaged in sedentary activities, such as viewing hours of television, playing video games, or listening to music. The sedentary lifestyle is associated with many health problems, including obesity. Also, the sedentary lifestyle is exacerbated by the fact that today’s children’s homes are packed with media options, including TVs, computers, DVD players and video game consoles. UK homes, for instance, appear to have accumulated increasing numbers of domestic technologies and new houses are getting smaller, thus leading to less space for children to move around and play.

Where do you take your child to play and what are the safety measures you take for your child’s play?


EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, 2011. A resolution on Early Years Learning in the European Union.

GAUTHIER, A.H., SMEEDING, T.M. & FURSTENBERG, F.F., 2004. Do we invest less time in children? Trends in parental time in selected industrialized countries since the 1960’s. Center for Policy Research. Paper 99.

GINSBURG, K.R., 2007. The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119 (1), pp. 182-191.

HAND, M. & SHOVE, E. & SOUTHERTON, D., 2007. Home extensions in the United Kingdom: space, time, and practice. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 25, pp. 668-681.

MILTEER, R.M. & GINSBURG, K.R., 2012. The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bond: Focus on children in poverty. Pediatrics, 129 (1), pp. 204-213.

NATIONAL PLAYING FIELDS ASSOCIATION, 2000. Best play- what play provision should do for children. London: NPFA Publications.

PLAY SAFETY FORUM, 2002. Managing risk in play provision: a position statement. Children’s Play Council, UK.

RIDEOUT, V.J., VANDEWATER, E.A. & WARTELL, E.A., 2003. Zero to six: Electronic media in the lives of infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

VEITCH, J., BAGLEY, S., BALL, K. & SALMON, J., 2005. Where do children usually play? A qualitative study of parents’ perceptions of influences on children’s active free-play. Health & Place, 12 (4), pp. 383-393.

Category: articles



About the author



Eva Sakellaridi is an education consultant and a researcher at the University College London (UCL), Institute of Education (IoE). She has a BA in English Language and Literature (2006), a Diploma in TESOL (2010) and a Certificate in Educational Psychology (2011). She also holds a MA in Education with Distinction from the University of Bath (2014). Among Eva’s main broad fields of interest are character education, educational psychology, school leadership and school improvement. Prior to becoming an education consultant, Eva worked in a range of public and private, preschool, primary and secondary educational organisations, universities and charities in a variety of capacities including classroom teacher, remedial teacher, student mentor, education programme manager and deputy school manager. Throughout her teaching career, she has observed that most children acquire academic skills more effortlessly and quicker compared to lifelong skills and has witnessed many and various cases of parental anxiety and concern about children’s character development and learning. As a result, Eva has always used scientific research to explore and personalise old and new pedagogical methods to empower both children and their parents.

Penelope’s Loom


Welcome to “Penelope’s Loom”! This is the name of our collection of educational articles that includes only research-based information on education, educational psychology and parenting, taken from sources such as scientific publications, reviews of research and government reports. Our aim is to offer our readers objective, authentic, scholarly information in a clear and simple way. If you would like to learn more about any of the themes tackled in our articles, feel free to contact us at and we will send you an e-copy of the references and/or further readings.


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