As a lifelong campaigner for children’s happiness and welfare, I’m privileged to work with many different people. When we first meet, someone will often refer to a television series I presented some years ago (‘Play School’) and say how much they loved it! It’s great that the programme is still remembered so fondly and as I launch a report on Play by the All Party Group on A Fit and Healthy Childhood, the programme’s title seems as relevant today as it was then. Our report makes clear that play is important for its own sake – but it is also a vital learning experience for each and every child. It’s good to see that ‘Play School’ was on the right lines all those years ago!

The publication of our fourth report and its subject matter is very timely. Over recent years, the role of play and its importance to child health and wellbeing has slipped from the political agenda. The fact that our nation is in the grip of an obesity crisis is well known, but though sport and physical activity are part of the solution, they are not a complete answer to the problem. Play is essentially democratic – not every child is ‘sporty’ but every child can play. If recognised as part of a ‘whole child strategy’ involving the early years, in-school and out-of-school activity and an increased awareness of good nutrition, it can help to make children physically fit and active whilst also promoting leadership and team-working skills, confidence building and awareness of risk and safety. Studies have also shown that if incorporated into classroom activities from the early years upwards, playful activity can boost numeracy and literacy levels and aid concentration and an improved all-round academic attainment. Play makes sense!

When I commend our report to parliamentary colleagues and Ministers, I’ll be stressing that this is the first fully comprehensive overview of play in all its infinite variety for many years. We look at outdoor play, making the point that the children of today need to feel as confident and safe playing outdoors and exploring their neighbourhoods as their parents and grandparents did, but we also look at indoor play both at home and in school and the role of new technology in a rich playful experience.

To allow their children to play freely and make their own choices, parents need help and training from the antenatal stage onwards and so do teachers and playground supervisors. Fixed equipment playgrounds must be accessible and appropriate for disabled children, and play workers at adventure playgrounds need to have properly recognised and accredited training programmes so that they can truly enhance a child’s experience. Above all, those making local planning decisions must be sensitive to parents’ worries about traffic risks and danger and threats from predatory individuals.

Policy-makers in England can take inspiration from the excellent high-profile play strategies we have outlined that are employed by the devolved governments of the United Kingdom and the designated ‘child friendly’ cities in countries such as Holland. The report acknowledges that we can, and should, learn from what works well elsewhere. What we’d like to see in addition, is play restored to its central position as part of a whole child strategy driven by a Cabinet Member for Children and policies in other Government Departments scrutinised for their impact on children and families. Immediately the Treasury, Education, Environment, Health and Transport Departments spring to mind but there will be others!

Play is essentially extremely creative and perhaps we need politicians not to talk about ‘thinking outside the box’ but to actually roll their sleeves up and make it happen!

‘Play’ written by the All Party Group on A Fit and Healthy Childhood has benefitted from the input of many different organisations, experts and academics and we’ve been extremely grateful for their advice and experience. I am passionate about everything that contributes to children’s happiness and future well-being.

I think that the people I worked with on ‘Play School’ almost forty years would support this report. I hope that today’s policy and decision-makers will too!

Download the Play Report here. 

By Baroness Floella Benjamin: Chair of the All Party Group on A Fit and Healthy Childhood

About The Author

Floella Benjamin
Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham

Floella was first seen on our screens in a drama called Within These Walls with Googie Withers, and most of us remember her from Playschool, which she presented for 12 years. Floella started her own television production company in 1987, producing dozens of programmes. Floella's real passion is for inspiring children and young people and she's recently started Touching Success which aims to give young people the chance to meet role models who have achieved success in their chosen field. Floella believes one should always give as much as possible to try and make a difference wherever or whenever you can. For the last 25 years Floella has campaigned on behalf of children, lobbying the last three Prime Ministers to have a Minister for Children to oversee the interest of children and young people until she eventually succeeded. Diversity is an important issue for Floella, she believes that we all need to have an informed understanding about the importance of it to be reflected in every aspect of our society, especially in our media which touch millions at any one given time. The achievement that has given Floella the biggest smile of all is being made a life peer and being introduced to the House of Lords as Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham. www.floellabenjamin.com If you want Floella to visit your school email mywebsite@floellabenjamin.com.

Related Posts