As any new mum or dad will agree, becoming responsible for a human life is not all fun and games. In fact, it’s bloody hard work.
But part of the joy of parenting is the gift of a second childhood. It’s another chance to play.
I conceived Babes about Town as a space for parents to rediscover the city as their playground, to experience London through a child’s eyes and, as our tagline states, to ‘love, play, eat’.
Last Monday, I was invited to an exclusive media event at Ikea to learn more about the Ikea Play Report, the largest global study of play and child development.
On arrival at Ikea in North Wembley, sales leader Vicky took our group through the Ikea Children’s range and then on a private tour of the children’s department.
I actually regretted leaving my 23-month-old at home with Daddy as Jed would have had a ball. In fact, according to Vicky, my little rock star could have trashed the joint.
Ikea encourages kids to get stuck in. There were little ones bouncing around all over the shop. Here’s Isabelle, adorable daughter of Mirka from All Baby Advice taking a Pod chair for a spin.
It’s hard walking around Ikea without wanting to grab a shopping trolley and start chucking stuff in. I loved this kids’ map with stick-on animals.
Only one Ikea toy uses batteries – the award-winning (and very realistic!) play kitchen. I almost wanted to kneel by the cooker and whip up a meal.
At Ikea, play is serious business.
The Ikea Play Report is a fascinating 18-month long study involving 7,900+ parents of kids aged 0 to 12 and 3,000+ children aged 7 to 12.
A few nuggets from the report:
- Children overwhelmingly prefer playing with friends (89%), or parents (73%), than watching TV (11%).
- Worries about play and child safety are significantly above index average (39%) in the UK, China & Czech Republic, but below average in Scandinavian countries.
- Many parents feel too time-poor (45%) and too stressed (26%) to play.
- But an index average of 93% of parents agree that ‘play is an essential part of the way my child develops.’
I was disappointed that this report covering 25 countries in Europe, Australasia, Asia and North America totally skipped the African continent.
I understand this was possibly because Ikea doesn’t yet have a presence in Africa (Hello? Swedish design and African fabrics? What are you waiting for!)… but it would have added an interesting dimension.
During my early childhood in Nigeria, I remember playtime being largely unsupervised and unstructured. We had less toys and TV and, thanks to the climate, most of our fun was had outdoors.
Through the (sometimes wild!) games we played, we learned to socialise, to adapt to new situations and to let our imaginations run riot.
Now I’m as guilty as the next UK parent of filling my home with toys (reportedly, the average kid in Britain has over 1 cubit metre of play stuff), but I believe in encouraging freeform play.
In fact, only 9% of children surveyed in the Ikea Report think that play always has to involve toys.
Here’s my favourite quote from the study:
‘Play is when my child and I lose all sense of time.’
There’s nothing like entering the twilight zone of childhood imagination and adventure – a world where anything’s possible. It’s ironic that parents feel too wound up to let loose with their kids when it’s probably one of the best forms of stress relief.
Playing is about being in the moment and that’s not just entertainment, it’s good for the soul. It’s also an essential part of our evolution.
In the words of anthropologist and neuroscientist Melvin Konner, ‘the smartest mammals are the most playful’.
So lighten up, mamas and papas. You know it makes sense.
Some playful tips for parents:
1. Lose control
Let go of the reins. Playtime’s sweeter when your kids take the lead.
2. Get silly
Funny faces, weird songs, rolling around. Kids love it when parents lose their inhibitions.
3. Be yourself
Make believe is cool, but if you’re not actually enjoying being Corny the Clown or Super-Crafty Susie, chances are your kids aren’t either!
Kudos to the folks at Ikea for initiating this report and special shout out to Caroline and Vicky for hosting us at their store and for lunch in Ikea cafe with those famous Swedish meatballs. Too tasty for words!
Visit Ikea’s Facebook page: Make the World Play More
Check out Toy Stories, an interactive story-making app for parents and children
Enter your kids’ art in Ikea’s international Your Fridge Door contest on Flickr