Playtime, as we know, is a crucial part of children’s development. Playing, according to Play England, can improve children’s self-awareness and esteem, mental health and promote imagination, independence, and creativity. But after a year of lockdowns and social distancing what does playtime look like and how has it changed, potentially forever?

Playtime’s over?

Playgrounds were once a hive of activity with children of all ages, genders and backgrounds mixing and playing together. However, Covid has made social play increasingly difficult with more and more play taking place indoors and within family units. This closing down of social play has been accelerated by Covid but is part of a broader trend. The British Children’s Play Survey found that in non-Covid times only half of children’s play occurred outside, with the majority of children not being allowed outside to play unattended until 11 years old.

The closure of play groups due to Covid has also had a significant effect with many young children and babies missing out on vital socialisation and enrichment. Many babies have, according to child development expert Dr Nayeli Gonzalez Gomez, developed a profound fear of strangers.

So, is this the end of playtime? Well not exactly, playtime is evolving and changing. Different areas of kid’s play are being explored with different outcomes for kids. From our Little Voices survey, we have tracked how play has evolved throughout the pandemic.

Children’s creativity is being championed

With playgrounds and play groups no longer on the cards, parents channelled their efforts into making inside play more creative and fun. Focusing on their children’s individual skills and abilities rather than socialisation.

Arts and crafts in particular has become more important with children’s creativity being championed. In our Little Voices survey arts and crafts supplies has topped the list of parents purchases for their children during lockdown across multiple waves.

We have seen this championing of creativity with hand drawn rainbows and messages of support popping up in windows across the country. TV is also looking to tap into kids creative play with lockdown commissions including Ricky Wilsons’ Art Jam for CBBC and for families Grayson’s Art club on Channel 4  designed to educate kids and give a platform for kids to express their creative prowess.

Play gets digital

In the past parents have been reluctant to allow their kids screen time for play or even educational purposes. However, accelerates by Covid, screen time is no longer the big bad wolf it once was. In fact half of parents say that Covid has changed their children’s screen time routine, with 92% of those children spending more time looking at screens.

Online gaming and play has never been more popular, with two thirds of kids regularly playing mobile games and over half regularly playing on gaming consoles. On top of this, a third of kids report spending more time gaming than they used to pre-Covid.

But why gaming? When we spoke to kids, we found that rather than being a solo activity, gaming was one of the ways kids could interact with their peers during lockdown, with a third of kids with access to online games using them to socialise with their friends.

The future of play

As the world gradually opens, kids will be allowed to play with each other outside again (albeit in groups of 6 for now) and hopefully the world will return back to normal. However, it’s unlikely some of the changes to playtime made during the pandemic will be lost.

The emphasis on kids’ art and creativity doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. Despite lockdown lifting, parents still see arts and crafts as an important part of their children’s play time. In a recent poll survey of mums, by Giraffe insights, stimulating their kid’s creativity was one of their top priorities.

In the same vein, purchasing of video games and consoles is on the up (despite parental reservations). Video games allow children to socialise in a socially distanced way, with the Fortnite map rivalling that of the traditional playground when it comes to interacting with friends!

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