The Impact of Play Deprivation and How to Avoid it

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What is play deprivation?

Play deprivation occurs when a child is unable to play freely, or engage in normal play activities. It can inhibit social and emotional learning, and damage early child development.

A play-deprived child may find it harder to interact with others throughout their lifetime, leading to poor resilience in certain situations, and reduced self-control.

Studies of play deprivation in children have found that it can be a serious problem for children, their families, and others around them as they grow older.

Adults have a key part to play in ensuring that children are able to access free play in order to help them develop vital cognitive skills. If an adult were to deprive children of play, they could have a lifelong effect on that child.

Why is play important for social and emotional learning?

Play is a necessity for children. It allows them to build vital social and emotional skills, as they interact with their classmates and friends.

Role play, for example, can help children to understand another person’s point of view, while teamwork activities can build their ability to communicate with others. As youngsters put together their own map of the world, play can help them to make emotional connections and develop skills enhanced by sensory experiences. Play Wales states that if a child lacks the sensory interactions that are achieved through play, it ‘can only result in behavioural instability, neurological dysfunction, unhappiness, and a lack of mental wellbeing in affected children.’

This is because the map of the world that they’re creating becomes limited due to their inability to play, stunting social and emotional learning.

Why is children’s play important?

When children play, they’re not only developing relationships and forming their own perceptions of the world around them, they’re also learning vital skills.

Children’s play can support their physical development as well as their motor and cognitive skills.

Freely chosen play is hugely important in children’s lives as they learn to navigate the world independently. Allowing children to lead their play is a major part of the playwork framework and for good reason. Play that is always structured or involves too much adult interference can also lead to play deprivation, as children aren’t allowed to fully engage with their environment or take risks so that they can learn resilience.

“A child has a right to play as it’s fundamental to their learning and development,” says Rachel Cox, Head of Childcare at TSW Training. “There should be adequate resources for them to use, as well as time to choose their own activities, and outdoor play experiences too. All of this will help children learn valuable skills that will take them through their lives.”

How can you ensure that children are getting enough free play?

Free play gives children the opportunity to carve out their own play, rather than being told what to do by an adult. It gives them autonomy to choose their own direction, and take risks without an adult intervening. All of this helps them to build confidence, and understand the consequences of their own actions.

If you work in a nursery setting, ensure that among structured activities, there is time for free play, to avoid children becoming fed up or afraid of making their own decisions. While you’re supervising, try to use reflective playwork practices to decide how much you should intervene in play, if at all.

Playworkers have a responsibility to make sure that all the children in their care are leading their own play, and are happy within the setting. Although it may seem a long way off until they’re adults, play gives them the chance to build skills that will serve them well for decades.

Train your childcare team with TSW Training

Your team’s childcare qualifications can give them the confidence to thrive in a setting, enhancing every child’s learning experience.

We offer Playwork & CCPLD programmes at different levels, from entry-level to diploma certifications.

See our full list of programmes, and register your interest here.

Picture of Richard Hywood
Richard Hywood
Richard is TSW Training Apprenticeships’ Employer and Community Engagement Manager. His articles will help your business prepare for and manage apprentices.
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