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Let The Children Play This Summer Say Leading Psychologists

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Children should be given opportunity to play with their friends, be physically active and spend time outdoors in order to support their mental health according to a group of leading experts.

Following a successful campaign last year, PlayFirstUK have written to the Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP, calling for decisions over children’s education and the easing of lockdown to prioritise social and emotional wellbeing.

The group includes 15 child psychologists and education specialists, led by Professor Helen Dodd from the University of Reading. They make three key recommendations for the easing of lockdown restrictions and move back to more face-to-face educational learning. Among them, the group call on the Government to make children exempt from the rule of two as soon as it is safe enough to do so and for schools to be given resources and support to prioritise children’s mental health when they return.

University Of Reading

The group of academics from the Universities of Reading, Sussex, Cambridge, Bath and Gloucester warn that plans for intensive ‘catch up’ activity may worsen children’s mental health and wellbeing. Not only would this lead to increased pressure on mental health services, filling the spring and summer term with additional lessons and pressure, at a cost to time playing with friends and receiving support for mental health problems, would have a negative effect on children’s learning in the long term.

Instead, they are calling for children’s ability to socialise and play with their friends to be prioritised as restrictions are reviewed. They argue that in the long-term this will be more beneficial for resilience and educational outcomes.

Helen Dodd, Professor of Child Psychology at the University of Reading and a member of Play First group said:

“We are really concerned about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children; research shows clear increases in mental health problems and loneliness. As part of the recovery process, children need time to reconnect and play with their friends, they need to be reminded how good it feels to be outdoors after so long inside and they need to get physically active again. There is understandable concern about children’s education but the impact of mental health problems in childhood can be lifelong.

“This letter is really a plea from us that children’s mental health and their right to play and have fun with their friends are not forgotten in a rush to catch them up to educational targets that adults have set for them.

“If we do not get this right we run the risk of pushing struggling children back into a pressured educational environment, which could cause further damage to their mental health and development.  Our children have missed out on enough over the past year, they deserve a summer filled with play.”

University of Sussex

Dr Kathryn Lester, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at the University of Sussex said:

“It is now more important than ever that the government stands by its commitment to children’s mental health. While there is an understandable focus on children catching up academically, we know that children cannot learn effectively when they are struggling emotionally.

“As lockdown eases, what children need is the time and space to reconnect and play with their friends because this is important for their emotional wellbeing and their academic achievement.

“For schools and parents, the pressure to ensure that children ‘catch up’ academically should be eased and instead schools must be given the resources and guidance to focus on putting children’s social and emotional wellbeing first.”  

Anita Grant, Chair of Play England said:

“This has been a time of massive anxiety, fear and stress for us all and children have been amongst the hardest hit. Children who feel anxious do not feel safe. As we move forward we need to think long and hard about how to support children to play freely, reconnect with their world and feel happy in their communities.

“Everything that we do in the recovery needs to support children to build resilience, work through trauma, make friends and enjoy themselves. Play is the way that children do all those things so giving them the space, time and permission to play is the best thing that we can do.”

The full letter is available at


http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/files/newsandevents/PlayFirst_Letter_Feb21.pdf

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