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How important is child’s play?

What did you want to be when you grew up? How does that compare with what your children want to be? Do our kids have the right balance between family responsibilities and play time?

These are some of the questions we’ve been reflecting on this week after releasing the findings of our global children’s survey, Small Voices, Big Dreams. This is the second year ChildFund has conducted the survey, one of the most comprehensive polls of children’s views in the world.

One of the interesting themes to emerge this year has been around the issue of play opportunities for children in different parts of the world. Our survey finds one in four Australian children wants to be a professional athlete when they grow up, and more than a third would spend a free day playing sport or other physical activity. Conversely, children in developing countries would prefer to be teachers or doctors, and one in four say they would spend a free day helping their family by doing housework, farmwork or other chores.

As I write in today’s National Times, this is not to suggest that Australian children are spoilt or indulged, but it does demonstrate the vast difference of opportunity between children in Australia and their peers in developing countries. We can be pleased and proud that so much opportunity for play and recreation has been created for children in Australia. This is a vital part of nurturing a healthy generation.

However, we can also learn a lot from children in developing countries, who demonstrate a high level of responsibility toward family and community. We know that children like to have a sense of responsibility. They want to have a valued role within their family and community, even from a young age. They enjoy and develop through exercising responsibility.

At ChildFund, we recognise that play is a vital part of a child’s development. The opportunity to play and to participate in games or sport is known to stimulate intellectual development, improve dexterity, build confidence and develop important social skills, such as teamwork, problem-solving and conflict resolution. Officially this is recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which asserts that children have the right to play.

This is why we incorporate play opportunities for children in our work. We hold Children’s Days where children get to participate in games and other activities. We provide play equipment at the schools we build. We work with communities to reduce the burden on children in terms of household and livelihood duties and create more time for education and play.

ChildFund Laos country manager Chris Mastaglio talks more about the importance of play and how ChildFund is helping to create play opportunities for children in Laos in this video:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. How do we strike the right balance between work and play for children?

Listen to Nigel speaking to ABC radio about this issue here.

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