The pandemic has brought on many unique challenges to all aspects of our lives and in some environments more than others. For schools, particularly primary schools, teachers, and staff had the difficult task of continuing their pupil’s education whilst attempting to abide by social distancing rules and general Covid-19 restrictions.

96% of parents responding to the BPS survey agreed that playtime during primary school was important

One aspect of school life that was immeasurably impacted by the social distancing restrictions last year was the opportunity for ‘unstructured playtime’ and physical activity. Parents fear that this decline in play is having a negative impact on children’s development and wellbeing and that these effects have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

A further 69% of parents surveyed stated being ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ concerned that the pandemic has reduced playtime for children

Dr Dan O’Hare, co-chair of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology in the BPS said: “This isn’t an ‘ask’ for more playtime, it’s about reclaiming what has been lost. There needs to be adequate support, funding and resources for teachers who are already under increasing pressure to deliver the curriculum.”

The campaign by the BPS, 'Tim to Play', is urging the government to ‘put back’ ten minutes of playtime every day into the school timetable. This time to be ‘put back’ comes from previous research by the BPS that found break times in schools have been steadily reducing since 1995, by a total of 45 minutes a week. This steady decline has now resulted in eight out of ten children having less than one hour per day to freely play or enjoy physical activity.

The BPS notes the benefits of break times and ‘unstructured, child-led play’ being, ‘aiding social development, problem solving and physical development’. The BPS’ Dr O’Hare noted their concern that academic catch up will take precedent over the opportunity for play and physical activity, especially as the evidence suggests we have been steadily moving away from it as a priority even pre-pandemic.

Speaking on the equal importance of play, Dr O’Hare said: “Reduced opportunities to play will likely have a negative impact on the wellbeing and development of children, and it is vital that we don’t forget that children have also missed out on play with their friends, physical activity and fun…It’s important to understand the role play has in children’s development to really understand why we are campaigning to get more play in the school day. Play is fundamental to children’s health and wellbeing. It can develop children’s skills in coping with challenge, facing uncertainty and how to be flexible and adaptable to different circumstances."

As society flexes and adjusts to the adverse effects of the past eighteen months it may feel that the ‘return to normal’ is of upmost priority, especially when concerning our children and their education. But as the BPS shows, the lack of play and physical activity in our primary schools is a path we were already on before the pandemic and the alien notions of social distancing, bubbles, and Covid-19 restrictions have only set us even further down that path.

Moving forward through this time of recovery it is essential to remember that, if we are to prioritise the wellbeing of the nation’s youngest, it is not only academic catch up and achievement we must look to, but the time and space to breathe, have fun, and play.