Twice a month, Paul and Sigrid Perez have taken to spending a whole afternoon on exclusive dates. Not alone, but rather, with their large brood of eight. They call these outings Boys/Girls Day Out. At the end of each play date, the kids can decide on a special group treat from mom and dad, within a reasonable budget. Almost all the time, they predictably asked for toys. “Kids liking and being drawn to toys is a given. But if indeed a child’s environment is his playground, we had to wonder if what we are providing was stimulating enough for them,” Sigrid said.
This got the couple harking back to their own growing up years, when play meant running off somewhere with your mates and fancy gadgets did not always dictate childhood adventures. They echoed the observation to friends and colleagues, particularly those involved in child care services, and were struck by the amount of discussion it elicited. The casual peer talks triggered further consultations, networking activities and eventually gave birth to Play Universal, a coalition that Sigrid put together whose mission is to promote, enrich and cultivate the benefits of play at home, in school and in communities. “We are speaking not only to educators and doctors but to fellow parents as well. We believe learning happens not only in a school setting when they study lessons and pore over books. The goal is to get as many Filipino parents to embrace the thinking and become more involved in their children’s play activities,” Sigrid explains.
As a first step, Play Universal is staging an international conference, Play Pilipinas 2011, which will gather experts, child care professionals and families to share the latest research on play and showcase best practice. Sigrid sees this as a landmark activity towards a national effort to broaden the perspective on the importance of play in child development.
Research is unanimous on the value of play. Professor Geraldine Naughton, Director of the Center for Physical Activity Across the Lifespan at the Australian Catholic University, describes play as “the currency of children” and recommends that adults who have contact with kids aged five to zero rethink the value of play and activity. “They need to understand that the benefits of play and movement far outweigh risks like minor injury. Adults must prioritize opportunities throughout the day for children to be active. The picture around play and movement is very complex. There is no magic fix; it’s a whole lifestyle issue – one the whole family needs to embrace.”