Opinion article: Everyone needs to play more - our future depends on it

The first International Day of Play is celebrated on June 11, 2024. On this day every year hereafter, the world will celebrate the power of play.

By Niels B. Christiansen, CEO, LEGO Group
Sidsel Marie Kristensen, CEO, LEGO Foundation

Play is never just play. Play is universal and taps into children’s natural enthusiasm and curiosity to learn. Play teaches children to explore, to wonder, to connect ideas and experiences and help them gain a deeper understanding of the world that surrounds them. When children play, they develop essential life skills such as creativity, confidence and resilience that help them thrive as they grow up.

Playing takes little more than picking up a stone or a stick. The only real investment is time. Yet, both parents and children indicate that the demand for children’s time away from play is increasing – with play time often being deprioritized.

In a recent survey of 25,500 children and 36,000 parents in 36 countries commissioned by the LEGO Group, 59% of parents indicated they worry that their children do not have enough playtime, do not have enough access to fun activities and worry that their child does not have enough playtime as a family.

Almost all children said play is important for their well-being. 91% of parents said that play improves their family’s overall wellbeing, and families who play rated their own happiness higher than those who don’t.

Yet, the average parent reported spending twice the amount of time by themselves on their electronic devices than they do playing with their family. 20% of parents surveyed said they never spend time playing as a family, mirroring 73% of children who think parents do not take play seriously.
These figures are worrisome because play is important for both the development and the well-being of children.

According to Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the first five years in a child’s life are extremely important. Much of the learning that goes on comes from play. And throughout childhood, play is a way for children to develop key life skills like creativity, confidence, and resilience that help them thrive.

We also know that play improves well-being. Both in moments of happiness and when facing challenges, children can find their way back to health and happiness, through play. Because of our jobs, we both frequently interact with children and parents when they play. The focus, joy and creativity unleashed never cease to amaze.

On a societal scale, economies are set to lose out on big social and economic benefits if early childhood development and play is not prioritised. A recent report by The Royal Foundation Business Taskforce for Early Childhood estimated that investing in early childhood in the UK could add up to £45.5 billion to the national economy each year.

Simply put, playing is natural, healthy and part of being human - but it is also fundamental to personal and societal progress.

This has long been recognised by the international community. Indeed, the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which almost all countries in the world have signed, recognises the right to play. And earlier this year, in a nod to the importance of this universally human activity, the UN General Assembly adopted an International Day of Play.

On 11 June this year, and every year hereafter, we will celebrate the power of play.

It’s a day to take stock, reflect and act. That is why today, we ask governments, organisations, schools and parents to:

  • Prioritise the space and time children need to play.
  • Improve resources and policies for educators, parents and caregivers to facilitate quality play.
  • Increase access to quality play for children facing additional barriers such as special educational need and disabilities, poverty or conflict.

We ask you to join us in championing the cultural change needed and put play back on the agenda for kids everywhere. Our future depends on it.