Playing helps children explore, learn about their world and feel happy. Also, being up and about and playing burns energy and helps prevent serious illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer in later life. Making sure there is time, space and freedom to play is a great way of making sure everyone is moving around and having fun!
The onset of Covid-19 has hit us hard. Parents and carers are facing a worrying time as schools and activities that normally keep their children active are closed. Despite this new stress, children will still want and need to play. Until the threat of illness passes, playing will need to be mostly inside or if outside, following the most up to date Welsh Government and Public Health Wales guidance around social distancing.
The importance of play in times of stress
During times of uncertainty, playing:
- helps children recover a sense of normality and joy during an experience of loss, isolation and trauma
- helps children to overcome emotional pain and regain control over their lives
- helps children make meaning of what has happened to them, and enable them to experience fun and enjoyment
- offers children an opportunity to explore their own creativity.
The physical activity guidelines
The four UK Chief Medical Officers’ physical activity guidelines recognise the importance of play for children’s development. The guidelines recommend that children should have as much active play as possible.
The guidelines state: ‘children are recommended to be active for an average of 60 minutes a day across the week.’
The overall message is any activity is better than none, and more is better still.
Modern life has made things comfortable for us and many of us spend a long time in sedentary activity that doesn’t burn off the energy we are consuming.
During these changing times, it is important that we find time in the day to get up and about. Inactive children are at risk of storing excess fat in their bodies – just like their parents.
Guidelines on physical activity recommendations for children aged 5 to 18 years:
- All children should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) for at least 60 minutes per day across the week.
- Children should engage in a variety of types and intensities of physical activity across the week to develop movement skills, muscular fitness, and bone strength.
- Children should aim to minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary, and when possible should break up long periods of not moving with at least light physical activity.
Making sense of the guidelines
- Moderate intensity physical activities, such as cycling, make us warmer, breathe harder, and our heart beats faster, while still being able to talk.
- Vigorous activities, such as running fast, playing tag and scooting, have similar but greater effects, and make talking much harder.
- Muscle- and bone-strengthening activities such as hopping, skipping, and swinging involve using body weight or working against resistance.
- Sedentary behaviour is activity with very low energy expenditure, primarily sitting or lying down. Sedentary activity includes screen-time (watching television, computer use, video games), sitting to read, talk, do homework, or listen to music.
Active play is physical activity with regular bursts of a moderate to vigorous pace, such as crawling, jumping, or running. Playing actively raises children’s heart rate and makes them ‘huff and puff’.
Ensuring children are active when being asked to socially distance
Social distancing requires everyone – children and adults – to stay six feet (two metres) apart at all times. So, being outdoors is still possible. But, it’s necessary to think about places where it is easier to keep the recommended distance from those not in our household. It is suggested that we can go on walks through neighbourhoods, go on bike rides and scooter rides. It is very difficult for children to self-regulate when they are playing, particularly when they are engaged in vigorous physical activity or there are other children nearby, so they may need our help with this.
For practical ideas for playing whilst social distancing see Play ideas for parents
Playing is the most natural and enjoyable way for children to be active, keep well and be happy. Parents and carers can find simple ways to include time and space for playing in their children’s daily lives. All kinds of play can help children to be more active.
Playing together is a great way to spend time as a family and help develop children’s confidence and communication skills. It can also help parents and other family members stay active too and it will contribute to improved well-being for everyone during times of uncertainty.