Researchers advocate more time and space for children to play “without rules”

Children need more time and space to be able to play “without rules”, argue researchers, who say that adults lack the acceptance that playing is worth it in itself and does not need a purpose.

In March, a resolution from the United Nations General Assembly set June 11th as the date to mark an annual day to raise awareness about play.

Regarding the first International Day of Play, which takes place this Tuesday, researchers consulted by Lusa warned that this right of children is not fully guaranteed today.

“Children have few opportunities to play freely, with rules created by them”, considered Teresa Sarmento, researcher in the area of ​​Child Studies and professor at the Institute of Education at the University of Minho.

An innate behavior, said the researcher, when children play, they explore, invent and simulate situations that will provide them with skills and learning about the environment around them, about others and about themselves.

Therefore, there is a tendency to think about play in terms of its impact on development and play in terms of its potential to maximize this development, but Frederico Lopes dispenses with these binoculars and argues that “play is worth it in itself”.

“Very often, adults look at play as much more focused on gaining skills and this, in a way, creates an agenda and pressure on children”, argued the researcher from the Faculty of Human Motricity at the University of Lisbon, which also coordinates the Portuguese network of the International Play Association (IPA).

The challenge for adults is to let go of the idea of ​​a final result and let children play freely and create their own rules, without an adult dictating what can or cannot happen.

“This flexibility, which is a very important dimension in what playing is, is lost, because playing is a very dynamic behavior and when it stops being that way, for the child, it can be profoundly boring”, defended Frederico Lopes.

The two researchers admitted, however, that the social context is currently not conducive to this, primarily because there is a lack of time.

“Children need a lot of time to play freely. The question is how time is organized, and it is very much organized according to adults’ time”, observed Teresa Sarmento.

The coordinator of IPA Portugal speaks of a “colonization of the child’s time by the adult”.

“And as an exchange currency, we give children a set of playful activities, but, deep down, we are populating this time, which also needs time and space for children to have the their own games with less influence from what is this more colonizing action on the part of adults”, he argued.

School is an example of this and Teresa Sarmento understands that the schooling process is excessively focused on didactic issues and forgets the right to play. “There has to be a very big change”, she defended.

Frederico Lopes added that the conditions of school spaces also do not help and defended changes that make other ways of playing viable.

In his opinion, this is where the answer to the challenge of new technologies lies and when schools and parents are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to ban the use of cell phones, for example, there must be a kind of negotiation.

“It is important to create other proposals, generate another type of conditions, rediscover the space so that the games can happen in a much more relational way. If we do not have this discussion and do not invest in this aspect, naturally, children later take more refuge in this other type of playing”, said the researcher, who believes that “if the conditions are right, children always play”.

It is at this point that perspectives diverge and Teresa Sarmento is of the opinion that even when faced with other alternatives at recess, children will choose to use their cell phones if there is such an opportunity and especially if this habit comes from behind, due to the additive potential.

“What we see in schools that are preventing the use of cell phones during recess is that children end up playing with each other much more, talking to each other much more, be relaxed otherwise”, he reported.

But defending the right to play, they agree, requires an effort from the entire society and public policies in this regard.


Francesco Giganti

Journalist, social media, blogger and pop culture obsessive in newshubpro

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