Setting up children to #beactive for life

Toys Industries of Europe invited policy makers, professionals, advocacy organisations and representatives of toy manufacturers to an event in the European Parliament during the European Week of Sports in order to advocate for re-inventing it as a European Week of Play and Sports. Parents International was represented by our Director, Eszter Salamon, who could use this opportunity to present the work done in Playfutures, especially the Guidelines for Communication with Parents.

The hosting MEP, Miapetra Kumpala-Natri from Finland emphasised the clear link between well being and the potential of economic growth, thus making a case for play even in an economy-focussed EU. She also highlighted that an early active lifestyle established the same for later in life, thus making the case for active play as a good basis for adult health.

Heidi Sulander, representing the Finnish Presidency of the EU introduced the Finnish approach to sport for children, promoting play and fun rather than competition. She also introduced the priorities of the Presidency in Sports: fighting corruption and safeguarding children – physically as well as preventing bullying, exploitation or any other form of harm.

Juana Willumsen, an expert at the World Health Organisation (WHO) introduced their global initiative to reduce physical inactivity by 10%. This is a reaction to many worrisome recent developments, including a significant growth of childhood obesity in low and middle income countries. According to global data, the 150 active minutes per week moderate activity requirement is not achieved by 1 in 4 adults, while 4 in 5 adolescents do not meet the 60 minute per day requirement.

WHO also developed and published new recommendations on the ideal percentage of physical activity, sleep and sedentary behaviour of children of different ages. This is the publication that was quoted as one ‘banning screen time for young children’, but this is not the case. While they clearly discourage to include time in the day when the child is sitting in front of a screen and not interacting or moving, other activities are welcome. When reading on a screen and discussing with parents, skyping with family members or watching a TV programme that encourages them to imitate and move, the activity is not considered sedentary.

WHO has also published guidelines for nurturing care for Early Childhood Development. They are also aiming at shaping family habits of play to encourage becoming more active physically. There will be new guidelines published on safe risk-taking as being risk-adverse is one of the reasons why parents often prevent their children’s physical activity.

Amanda Gummer from Fundamentally Children, a research consultancy organisation presented ther play pyramid model to help finding a balance of different playful activities. She claimed they are missing a link between free/imaginative/social play and learning in their own research. In their experience parents acknowledge play as being useful for exploring personals interests and talents. With regards to outdoor play parents’ main fears are around safety (risk of abduction) and traffic. While the latter is a well-founded fear as traffic has increased in the past decades, the former is unfunded. While media boosts such cases, the world, especially living anywhere in Europe has never been safer for children. In this field there is a need to educate parents, but urban design initiatives are also important.

In their model, indoor play is not low down the play pyramid. They have also emphasised benefits of screen-based play especially in the field of intergenerational learning and accessibility. She also emphasised how important parent well-being is for being a good parent, namely that parents understand their own needs.

The representative of COFACE questioned the fact that play deprivation is becoming a growing phenomenon in Europe, while there is ample research proving it.

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