Interview - Dr Dan O'Hare


The chair-elect of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology (DECP), British Psychological Society on its campaign for play

Dr Dan O'Hare
Dr Dan O'Hare

TELL US ABOUT THE PLAYTIME VIDEO THAT YOU’VE JUST RELEASED WITH MICHAEL ROSEN.

Our film ‘Right to Play’ asks children directly why play is important to them, and it’s a powerful message that comes back. Children say play makes them feel less lonely, less stressed and happier – and this is a message that Michael Rosen was happy to get behind.

The film itself is part of a larger piece of work that the DECP is undertaking to shine the spotlight on how important play is to children of all ages. It follows on from our 2019 paper on Children’s Right to Play, which aimed to present a strong, clear, psychologically informed perspective on play.

The DECP is part of the British Psychological Society. They were keen to support us to ‘get the word out’ about the importance of play and supported the film’s development. We are passionate advocates for children’s voices, and so to go to children [for the film] seemed like a logical next step.

YOU SAY CHILDREN’S BREAK TIME HAS BEEN CUT BY 45 MINUTES A WEEK. WHY IS PLAYTIME AT SCHOOL SO IMPORTANT?

As the film says, play is not a means to an end, it’s a right and one of the fundamental activities of childhood. Play can of course happen anywhere, but within our school structures, break time is a key opportunity for children to engage in play.

Play can develop children’s skills in coping with challenge, facing uncertainty and how to be flexible and adaptable to different circumstances. Play also exposes children to a range of emotions they can learn to manage through play. And play that is free from adult direction and intrusion promotes social skills and the development and maintenance of social relationships.

Play shouldn’t be seen as the means towards some adult-determined end. With an increasingly narrow curriculum and attainment pressures, being felt in the early years, play-based activities are often adult-focused and outcome-led.

Play isn’t just a break from education or a way for children to ‘let off steam’, play is a part of education! This is why the DECP believes strongly that withdrawal of break-time opportunities for play in school should never be used as a punishment, because play is such a critical factor in children’s development and well-being.

Children living in poverty, those experiencing social disadvantage and those with SEND can experience significantly greater barriers to play. We want to help all adults that work with children to recognise that with opportunities to access play, children can enjoy their childhoods.

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN NEXT?

Ideally our campaign will gain some political attention and traction. We’re really concerned about the reduction of opportunities to play that children have at school and in their local communities. Degradation of local play facilities is a concern, as is the pressure to focus on academic learning. We’d like to see the scales tipped back towards a recognition of the fundamental importance of play.

We want to see the narrative change so punishing children by making them miss play or break times due to misbehaviour is not acceptable.

It would be great to work with children and young people further to understand how we can support and develop opportunities to play within schools and local communities.

So why all this focus on play? Well, in the words of four young people that open our film, ‘because it’s fun!’

  • Watch Right to Play here

 

Watch

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