I recently contributed to the LEGO Play Well Report, a study of 13,000 people in nine countries, which found that families who play for five or more hours together a week were happier than those who played for less.
I concur that Denmark’s belief in the importance of play is one of the main reasons why it has been voted among the happiest countries in the world for over 40 years in a row.
Seamless, shared, savvy
What I found most interesting about the report was a new kind of play that could change the way we view technology. ‘Fluid play’ consists of overlapping experiences that bring the real world, imaginary play and digital experiences together as one. Essentially, it is the child’s ability to move between the digital play space and physical play spaces seamlessly.
The report reveals that the increasing integration of digital layers doesn’t come at the expense of more traditional shared play as many have feared. In fact, learning skills like problem solving, creativity, communication and collaboration are still at play in digital spaces – we just need to be a bit more aware of what is happening in these worlds.
Since more than half of the children in the report still prefer playing with their parents, the takeaway is: let’s be informed, not afraid of fluid play.
Turn on, tune in
“Kids today see the digital and real worlds as part of one interconnected play space,” contends Dr Elena Hoicka, a senior psychology in education lecturer at the University of Bristol.
“To make the most of their time playing together, parents need to adopt this fluid mindset too.”
The fear that most parents experience is often driven by their lack of experience in the digital world and their inability to join in with children when they are using technology in play.
Be a part, not apart
Most of us didn’t grow up with digital play. Therefore, we often worry that technology makes play a passive experience for our kids. We think it stifles creativity and imagination and isolates them from families and friends. While these may be legitimate concerns, to a child the digital space is seen as just another play space.
Parents need to understand the different types of play that are out there and learn how to trigger more fluid play together.
Playing online games together and using the many apps designed to help parents and children engage in fluid play is a good start. These are examples of how, as parents, we can be a part of their digital lives, not apart from them.
Strike with app-titude
So, the next time you see your child playing on a device and your first reaction is to feel concerned, sit down and get interested. Observe what they like and see if you can suggest some games or apps you can be a part of too.
Just because these aren’t things we are familiar with doesn’t mean we can’t learn. Remember – the happiness benefits for families playing together are still there, whether it’s online or offline.
Follow the advice of play advocate Cliff Jones, a lecturer at the University of Sussex: “Don’t say ‘No’; just say ‘Know’.”