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Deprivation effects of play on childhood

Not enough play is happening outside and the blossoming of our children is being compromised. By not allowing kids to develop the tools to deal with life’s stressors and realise how to overcome them, we are depriving children of evolving into confident, resilient, collaborative and empathic adults.


The terms play bias and play deprivation come to mind and it’s important we understand the flip side of play opportunities. Play bias is “a loading of play in one area of experience or another – having the effect of excluding the child for some parts of the total play experience with potential detrimental effects.” i Whereas play deprivation refers to the result of “a chronic lack of sensory interaction with the world: a form of sensory deprivation.” So, it’s no surprise that the research of play within nature, offering a full sensory exploration, consistently tells us that children should be increasing their connection with it.


“The powerful combination of a diversity of play experiences and direct contact with nature has direct benefits for children’s physical, mental and emotional health. Free play opportunities in natural settings offer possibilities for restoration, and hence, well-being.”


In order to discover ourselves, we must learn our likes and dislikes, understand other people and the world around us, and form a sense of individuality - all of these combined creates our identity. With a solid identity and strong self-worth, children are less likely to be bullied or become the bully. But if they don’t develop agency, they’re not going to gather the essential information they need to discover for themselves. Encouraging certainty in a child’s spirit invites the foundation of self-worth as a refuge. During play, a child is activating their physiology to recognise they are the master of their own fulfilment. This means annihilating the desire to seek out wholeness externally - through other people, relationships, screens, over-eating, etc. Creating environments and treating children as equals are just a couple of ways we can help them develop agency.


Open, honest conversations with children being respected as worthy citizens with opinions that matter, has been proven positive in boosting a child’s self-esteem. Claire Warden, said recently on the Play it Forward podcast, “There’s these moments every day that you can do that actually help a child develop a sense of agency and a sense of empowerment.” She goes on to explain how collaborating and negotiating a plan with children leads to autonomy and confidence in decision-making and following through with activities. “One of the things about the child-led inquiry is that people think it’s going to be chaos…and they think, ‘Oh I’ll just do whatever the child wants to do,” but actually that’s how a conversation works. The whole point of the democratic process is we negotiate.”


If we delve into the physiology of children during outdoor play, we can understand how their external and internal habitats support one another. Creating positive feedback loops within the body’s chemistry preserves homeostasis, which is helps maintain body stability. This very much holds true within the framework of play. To enhance or amplify change, positive feedback loops stimulate a selfreinforcing response that can increase the depth of play and learning for children. Because of these encouraging signals to the brain, children will seek out challenges and feel rewarded. This is important learning to take into adult life and at the centre of this lesson is confidence and connection to identity.


Hughes, B. (2003) Play deprivation, play bias and playwork practice. In Brown, F. (ed) Playwork Theory and Practice, Open University Press pp 66 – 80

Lester, S. and Maudsley, M. (2006) Play, Naturally: A review of children’s natural play, Playwork Partnerships https://www.wearthy.co/podcast https://www.facebook.com/wearthy.co https://www.instagram.com/wearthy.co/ https://www.linkedin.com/in/lukasritson/