Active play may involve symbolic activity or games with or without clearly defined rules; the activity may be unstructured/unorganised, social or solitary, but the distinguishing features are a playful context, combined with activity that is significantly above resting metabolic rate. Active play tends to occur sporadically, with frequent rest periods, which makes it difficult to record. The activity is self-determined and not adult-led or organised.
Children have a right to play, as recognised in article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Convention defines play as initiated, controlled and structured by children, as non-compulsory, driven by intrinsic motivation. It has key characteristics of fun, uncertainty, challenge, flexibility and non- productivity. In Wales, a policy framework for play has been in place since 2002 with the publication of a national play policy, followed by a national strategy in 2006. The Welsh Government recognises that to achieve its aim of creating a play friendly Wales and to provide opportunities for our children to play it is necessary for local authorities, their partners and other stakeholders to also work towards this purpose. Therefore, a section on Play Opportunities (play sufficiency duties) was included in the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010.
Children report that playing is one of the most important aspects of their lives; they value the time, the freedom and quality places to play. Consultations with children and young people in Wales show that they prefer to play outdoors away from adult supervision, in safe but stimulating places.
Outdoor play is one of the ten evidence-based steps to help children in the early years to maintain a healthy weight promoted in the Public Health Wales Every Child Wales programme Step six focuses on outdoor play, with the ambition that every child will be given the chance to play outdoors every day. In a survey to inform the programme, almost all parents (97 per cent) of children under the age of five think it is important for their child to play outdoors every day. However, nearly a third of children under-five (29 per cent) are not getting the time outdoors that they need.
The benchmark used by the Research Work Group to allocate a grade to
this indicator was:
- % of children and youth who engage in unstructured/unorganized active play for several hours a day
- % of children and youth report being outdoors for several hours a day
- % of children and youth using ‘streets near home or school, park, playground not at school, playing fields not at school, and beach/sea for places of physical activity/play
Evidence suggests that children are more active when they are outside. Therefore, in the previous Report Card (2014), ‘use of the park’ was used solely to establish the grade for this indicator. For the 2016 Report Card, the Research Work Group used the proportion of children using a variety of places for play as the benchmark for grading this indicator, as well as, the percentage of children reported spending ≥ 3 hours outside playing.
To comply with Play Sufficiency duties, each local authority in Wales has submitted Play Sufficiency Assessments to Welsh Government Ministers. Local authorities undertook surveys with children and many have used similar questions based on a template questionnaire. In 2016, 13 of 22 local authorities in Wales asked a total of 5,478 children aged 5-17 questions around play.
With regards to the use of outdoor spaces for places of physical activity/play, 13109 out of 21060 favourite choices were outdoor spaces. Regarding the benchmark of percentage of children and youth report being outdoors for several hours a day, 41 % report playing out most days. This data was used as is was the best available data seeking children’s views about their access to enough time and spaces for playing outdoors. The Research Group agreed that, when outside, children tend to tend to be physically active and stretch themselves both physically and emotionally than they would if they were supervised.
The HBSC/SHRN is a school-based survey with data collected through self-completion questionnaires administered in the classroom.The survey was carried out on a nationally representative sample and was completed by over 100,000 children and young people aged 11-16 years in Wales. The survey contains a core set of questions looking at the following:
In relation to the Active Play indicator, the HBSC/SHRN 2017 asked: “During the most recent summer holidays, how often did you exercise in your free time so much that you got out of breath or sweated?”. A total of 44% (44,629 children) reported that they exercised ‘often’ or ‘all of the time’ during the summer holidays. Results reported a difference between sexes, with 50% of boys (n = 25,287) compared to 38% of girls (n = 19,342) reported that they exercised ‘often’ or ‘all of the time’ during the summer holidays.
The HBSC/SHRN 2017 is representative across all regions in Wales. However, the survey focuses solely on secondary aged children (aged 11-16 years) which is a likely bias in the results.
The School Sport Survey (2015) provides data on 115,398 children aged 7-16 years old from across Wales. Data on the proportion of children and youth using ‘streets near home or school' (43%), ‘park' (61%), ‘playground not at school' (38%), ‘playing fields at school' (48%), ‘playing fields not at school' (50%) and ‘beach/sea' (42%) for places of exercise/play in the previous year were synthesised to give an overall proportion of 47% of children and youth using at least one of these places (School Sport Survey 2015).
The Little Voices Shouting Out survey of children aged 7-11 years from across Wales reported that 18% spent 3 hours, 15% 4 hours and 27% more than 4 hours playing outside on a normal day. Therefore, 60% of children reporting spending ≥3 hours outside playing.
The Research Working Group notes that collecting data from children in unstructured play in ethically and logistically challenging. The Group agreed that the variety of places for play should be considered. Data on the percentage of children reporting playing outdoors on most days (41%), as well as the percentage reporting exercise when not in school (44%) was synthesized to give an overall reporting average as 43% (42.5%), equating to a C- grade for the available data. The grade in AHK 2016 report card was C, due to the availability of more comprehensive data from children.
The best available evidence shows that in terms of Active Play, Wales are only succeeding with below half of children and young people. Research suggests that given the opportunity, children get wide-ranging exercise as well as significant mental health benefits from freely chosen play. All children and young people need to play. Play is fundamental to the healthy development and well-being of individuals and communities, therefore encouragement towards getting children outdoors playing is a necessity. Children and parents report a range of barriers preventing children playing out including safety fears, traffic, time pressures, reduction in spaces to play.