Back to school and playtime have looked completely different this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—and that’s why the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA), the playground industry’s leading playground safety certification organization, and its public awareness initiative, the Voice of Play, wanted to hear what’s on parents’ minds when it comes to their children’s outdoor playtime. For its third annual Voice of Play survey, IPEMA heard from a diverse group of 1,000 parents to understand how COVID-19 and other events of the year impacted play.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Play
Our survey found that 50 percent of parents say they do not feel comfortable allowing their children to play on playgrounds during the pandemic. Despite that, however, 52 percent of parents said they value the public playground environment now more than ever.
Even though play spaces and group play may be limited, it’s important for children to continue to find creative, unique ways to play in order to develop important social, physical, emotional, and cognitive skills. Additionally, if playgrounds or parks are still closed in your area, there are many benefits to encouraging your child to play with immediate family members and possibly close friends to assure the psychological positive lift associated with playful activity.
While parents also shared that their kids may be getting less social interaction and physical activity as a result of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to encourage creativity and imagination in children by managing the time they spend in front of a screen. Find ways to entertain them otherwise, like teaching them how to bake, playing board games, playing hide and seek, or even setting up their own treasure hunt.
IPEMA Survey: U.S. Parents Say Play Can Foster Inclusiveness and Play Equity
Parents Finding Ways to Prioritize Play
When asked what type of outdoor activities children are participating in instead of going to public playgrounds, which may be closed due to the pandemic, most parents responded and said that their children are engaging in backyard play. The backyard is a great place to use the imagination to create fun and exciting new games to keep children entertained. Other parents responded and said that they’ve taken up nature walks with their children or are participating in more physical activities and sports like bike riding and swimming.
The Importance of Play and Social Equity
Nearly nine in ten parents that were surveyed agree that right now, play is more important than ever. In fact, 88 percent of parents agree that outdoor play alone can help children cope with the mental impacts of social injustice in the U.S – and it’s true. Most parents said that their child’s spontaneous play with other kids on the playground shapes their view of equality for all, regardless of race and ability levels. What matters is that they’re having fun, getting creative, and developing social skills by playing with other children.
“Play is the great equalizer and allows children to develop empathy,” said Tom Norquist, IPEMA’s immediate past president. “It allows children to readily accept differences, genuinely feel harmonious, and learn that others may have different feelings and perspectives—and that’s okay. It’s great to confirm from our survey research that parents observe this across the country.”
Playing on the playground gives children the chance to be inclusive and learn how others play. 92 percent of parents agree that playing on the playground helps children be inclusive of others who may have different abilities and backgrounds than their own.
Parents feel the most positive things to come out of playing on a playground for children are playing with children of all abilities, improved physical fitness, less screen time, confidence-boosting, and increased motivation.
“We need to view play as what it has been for years: an essential part of childhood and a child’s development. There is power in play and it has so many valuable benefits for kids that help them develop skills they need for life,” says Norquist.
Family time is extremely important, and the pandemic has impacted the way families spend time together. In fact, 60 percent of parents said they are playing together as a family more than before the pandemic. What’s even better is that 94 percent of parents are engaging with their children in outdoor play! This includes games (such as hide and seek or tag), running, hangout (on a bench/play space), swinging, jumping, sliding, climbing, crawling, and other additional activities.
Different Playgrounds, Different Benefits
One of the most popular playgrounds on the list of favorites, where about two in ten parents agreed, were destination playgrounds, which are typically larger playgrounds set in a location that may require a drive to reach. Generally speaking, destination playgrounds include theming and lots of diverse play activities for all to enjoy.
The location of play is generally located at a park with open green space and play equipment. Open green space, at a playground or in your backyard, allows for kids to participate in free and imaginative play, which is one of the best types of play as it allows children can get more creative with what activities or games they’d like to play (or makeup on their own!).
Unfortunately, many communities still do not have proper access to public playgrounds that can help kids learn, grow, and develop. According to the third annual Voice of Play Survey, many parents agree that more funding needs to go towards community playgrounds. More importantly, play equipment at public playgrounds needs to be inclusive by design, exceeding the ADA requirements so that all children can take part in this important time of personal development. To learn more about meeting important ADA minimum requirements, visit IPEMA.org.