George Bernard Shaw famously wrote: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” How right he was!

Last month, the Government published the KS1 and KS2 SATs results, and for many young children, it marked their first stage in the race to reach the expected national standards in academic subjects by the ages of 7, 11, and 16. To some, this is the culmination of years of hard work studying maths, English and SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) and for many year 6 students, much of their last year at primary school has been focused on achieving top results in these exams, sometimes at the expense of other curriculum items. It’s no wonder that ‘playtime’ has become a dirty word in some circles!

However, in the same month, we also heard about the increasing incidence of mental health problems that many young people suffer from nowadays, often due to the pressures they face to do well across the board in exams and academic subjects, as well as feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem that can be caused by social media and a culture which constantly promotes a comparison with others.

And yet early years professionals know that children learn best when they are engaged, interested and excited by a subject; and that often means that the best learning is done through PLAY and a holistic approach to education!

So perhaps the time has come to put ‘play’ back on the curriculum and high on the list! But fear not, the humble playtime does have its fair share of supporters too – in fact it has its very own awareness day!

Set up in 1987 by 3 London playworkers, Mick Conway, Paul Bonel and Kim Holdaway, Playday’s initial aims were to raise the profile of play and alert people locally to the potential loss of children’s play services. But their idea quickly gained momentum and in 4 years, it went national, and it is now the biggest celebration of children’s play in the UK. Last year communities celebrated Playday at more than 850 events. The United Nations have even officially recognised the right to play in their “Convention on the Rights of the Child”.

You can read more about Playday on the official Playday website, and you might also be surprised to know that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own charity groups dedicated to promoting play in their regions. This year, Playday is on Wednesday August 7th and there are hundreds of activities for you to join in all around the country. Or you can always set up your own event too.

“Every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”

Article 31. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The theme for this year’s Playday is “Play Builds Children”, and the organisers and their coordinating partners want to “highlight the many ways in which play is beneficial to children and young people.” Recent research has shown play has many benefits, not just for the children undertaking the play, but also for their families and wider communities too. It can:

  • improve and maintain children’s physical and mental health
  • give them the chance to socialise with other children of different ages and social backgrounds
  • increase their confidence, self-awareness and self-esteem
  • develop imagination and creativity
  • promote independence
  • build resilience through different physical and mental challenges and risk-taking
  • offer opportunities for problem solving and new encounters

hat’s why this year’s theme says that play can “build children and communities” – through their friendships, their resilience, and their health and wellbeing.

What can you do on Playday?

The answer to this is quite simple – PLAY!

There will be lots of organised events you can attend, either as an early years setting, a family or an individual. A quick review of the some of the events around the country returned a whole myriad of activities including: farm activities, inflatables, crafts, pop-up play, giant games, messy play, circus skills, willow weaving, balance bikes, quad bikes, water/mud slides, hay bales, bouncy castles, sports, a mobile skate park, tree-planting, bolder-climbing, face painting, magic shows, water-play activities, Sumo-wrestling, Capoeira, and a plan “to fill a car park with cardboard boxes!”

So it seems that ‘anything goes’ as long as you are playing and having fun!

It’s summer – why not try some water play?

Since the warm weather is finally kicking in, why not have fun this Playday with some of our suggested water-based play ideas.

Sprinkler Spree! Everyone loves running through a sprinkler, thinking that we will somehow dodge the water droplets and come out dry on the other side. Oh, how wrong we are!!

Set up a water run. You could set up a water run by connecting different items together such as plastic/wooden tubes, tilted bowls and old pipes. How far can you get the water to travel?

Try some pond-dipping. This is great fun and highly educational as well, helping you introduce mini-beasts and different habitats/environments to your setting too.

Test your water pouring and maths skills. Collect together a range of different containers of different shapes and sizes that could hold water. Get the children to pour the water from one container to another and to say whether they think the water will fit in or not.

Jump in muddy puddles! Although it’s summer, there is no rule to say that you can’t make your own muddy puddles to jump in. After all, if you can’t jump in a muddy puddle when you’re a toddler, what has the world come to?!

Check out what is happening near you by visiting the Playday website, and there are lots of resources to help you if you want to plan your own event too, including logos, posters, tips and an organiser’s checklist.


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Reference for research on play:

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