Less school and more play has benefits for children, study finds

Survey shows children spending more time playing outdoors than before pandemic

The survey found that 74% of children were spending more time engaged in outdoor play than they were before schools closed. Photograph: Alexander Becher

The survey found that 74% of children were spending more time engaged in outdoor play than they were before schools closed. Photograph: Alexander Becher

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Most primary level children are spending less than two hours a day doing school work but are spending more time playing outdoors than they did before the coronavirus crisis, a new study shows.

The Play and Learning in the Early Years (PLEY) survey, conducted by researchers at Mary Immaculate College, measures the impact the lockdown has had on children and their behaviour.

The findings show that a large majority of children (88 per cent) aged between six and seven spent two hours or less on school work each day, while 25 per cent of children aged 8-10 spent more than two hours.

More than eight in 10 parents did some school work at home with their children every day, but the work was a source of conflict between parents and children in 55 per cent of cases.

Screen time

The survey, which questioned 506 parents of children aged between one and 10 from May 21st to June 3rd, also found that 74 per cent of children were spending more time engaged in outdoor play than they were before schools were closed.

Some 78 per cent reported increased screen time while nearly a third spent more time reading than they did before the lockdown.

Over three-quarters of children (80 per cent) watched educational TV such as RTÉ’s Home School Hub or TG4’s Cúla4 ar Scoil at least once a week.

The survey also found that the majority of children understand the restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus with many (34 per cent) incorporating it into their play.

Teachers vs parents

Report author and lecturer in the department of psychology at Mary Immaculate College Dr Suzanne Egan said: “While children have been spending less time on school work at home than in school it isn’t necessarily something to be concerned about.”

She said it is “difficult” to compare the time spent on school work at home with one-to-one support from parents and that provided by teachers in classrooms.

“Also much learning for young children occurs through play, so while there may be less time spent on traditional school work, there are still many other opportunities for children to learn at home.

“Some of responses provided by parents suggest their children have adapted well to the change in circumstances and are thriving on more outdoor play and greater freedom from schedules.”

However, she said there is evidence some children and families are struggling and may need additional support when they return in September.

“Some children will need additional supports, especially where inequalities already exist. It is important to realise that where there is an impact it will not be the same for everyone.”