Last updated on Jan 31st, 2021 at 05:44 pm

Parents know that play is important to children’s development, and that playing has a wide range of benefits for each child as well as for parents, and for families as a whole. This was confirmed by the 2020 LEGO® Play Well Study, conducted in 18 countries by interviewing more than 18 000 parents and more than 12 500 children aged 5 to 12 years, including in South Africa.

Kids want more time to play as a family

87% of South African children surveyed as part of the study wished that they had more time to play, with nearly all the children participating in the research saying that they wished they played more as a family. 91% of all the children in the survey said that play makes their parents happy, with nearly 9 out of 10 children saying that playing with their parents helps them get to know one another better.

Importance of play

  • “Play is key to every child’s learning, development, wellbeing and confidence,” says Kristian Imhof, country manager for LEGO South Africa. “It helps them develop their social skills and mastery of language and communication skills, and playing with members of their family helps them feel loved, safe, and happy.”
  • “Play also helps develop skills like creativity, memory, cognitive flexibility, and even peer group leadership skills,” Imhof adds. “Children learn different skills from playing with different people, and, parents’ knowledge of the world adds more depth and variety to play, widening children’s imaginations even more.”
  • Spending time playing stimulates brain development, improves intelligence, and sparks creative thinking, while helping children learn impulse control and to regulate their emotions when a situation doesn’t necessarily develop in their favour.
  • It also helps them learn how to solve problems and learn some of life’s most valuable lessons by practicing social skills.
  • Play also helps boost mental and physical health.

Hurdles parents face

With 9 out 10 South African fathers that live with their children being economically active, and more than half of mothers working too – along with the complexity of working at home during the 2020 pandemic – it’s easy to see why families perhaps don’t play together as often as children would like.

While children playing quietly with siblings, friends or even on their own may be seen by parents as a great opportunity to get some chores out of the way, it really is worth taking some time out for families to play together.  In addition to the considerable developmental benefits of playing as a family, there’s other magic that happens: parents and children talk more, they laugh more together, and they build family jokes and connections that last long beyond childhood. These connections and the emotional intimacy they create build the foundations for serious and important conversations in the future, where children and adults already have a sense of family togetherness and a deep feeling of belonging.

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The benefits of playing together as a family

Playing together as a family is not just important for children’s development – science has proved it’s good for parents too! Engaging in play with their children sees the release of oxytocin in parents, the hormone that plays a role in parent-infant bonding, and which is also known as the ‘love’ hormone. It’s also connected to dopamine and serotonin, together known as the ‘happy hormones’, and helps adults relax, promoting decreased stressed and anxiety levels. “Parenting is always a juggling act, with parents wanting to work to provide their children with the best opportunities possible – and there’s no magic formula that answers this challenge,” Imhof says.

“However, being mindful of the benefits of play, and specifically family play, may help encourage parents to set some time aside to create truly meaningful play experiences with their children, that will offer much deeper benefits over the long term than the significant short-term benefit of simple, joyful time spent together with the people you love the most – your family.”