International Day of Play reminds us why we need to stay playful

Media release

11 June 2024

This year, the UN General Assembly has declared Tuesday 11 June the inaugural International Day of Play.

Deakin University Associate Professor of Play Therapy, Judi Parson, from the School of Health and Social Development, said the establishment of an International Day of Play was a wonderful way to champion the deep value of play to both children and adults.

'Play supports physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development as well as our emotional health and well-being,' Associate Professor Parson said.

'It enhances our quality of life, mental health, and cognitive abilities, including critical thinking skills, creativity, and counterfactual thinking.

'In a world where anxiety and depression rates are increasing, play offers a counteractive influence by fostering positive emotions.

'Over decades, research has consistently highlighted the profound value of play across the lifespan, emphasizing its crucial role in fostering well-being for both children and adults.

'Rich childhood play contributes to adaptability and stress, coping skills in adulthood and systemic benefits that positively impact individuals, families, communities, and society at large.

‘Life is faster and more scheduled than ever, which has changed opportunities for play, but play is crucial for regrouping, refreshing, and coping with the stresses of life.’

Deakin Emeritus Professor Karen Stagnitti said all forms of play offer unique benefits.

'Exploratory play helps children discover the properties of objects, while sensory motor play enhances body awareness and motor skills,' Professor Stagnitti said.

'Pretend play is linked to socio-emotional well-being, language development, social competence, creativity, and self-regulation.

'While self-directed play is one of the most powerful types of play as it fosters deep learning and enhances memory retention.

'When adults engage playfully with children, it often promotes strong connections. Pretend play and child-chosen activities are especially impactful.'

Professor Stagnitti said that play offers children opportunities to assess and manage risks and, in the process, develop important life skills such as resilience, problem-solving, and decision-making.

'Engaging in activities that involve a degree of risk allows children to push their boundaries, build confidence, and develop a sense of self-efficacy. Experiencing manageable risks in a safe and supervised environment helps children learn to navigate uncertainty and cope with challenges, preparing them for the complexities of the real world.'

Without play, experts say children's physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development can suffer, including:

  • Poor cardiovascular health, weakened immunity and obesity.
  • Poor self-regulation, low confidence, depression, and anxiety.
  • Difficulty learning.
  • Impacted social skills, especially cooperation, negotiation, and conflict resolution.
  • Delayed language development and communication skills.
  • Difficulties in managing emotions and stress.
  • Reduced attention, memory, and concentration, affecting education progress.
  • Long-term consequences may include undermining self-esteem, confidence, resilience, adaptability, and teamwork.

Lecturer in Play Therapy Bridget Sarah said play is a lifespan pursuit that benefits both children and adults.

'It may change form over time but its importance for emotional wellness never diminishes,' Ms Sarah said.

'As adults, we may forget how to be playful, and dominating a child's play can decrease the child’s sense of empowerment.

'We haven't inherently lost the ability to play, but the way we and our children engage in play has evolved with our busy lifestyles,' Ms Sarah said.

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Media release Faculty of Health, School of Health and Social Development