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Sleep, reading the key to more playtime for four year olds

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


  • Unstructured play is beneficial to a child's development.

    Unstructured play is beneficial to a child's development.

Structured activities, rather than TV, are most likely to have an impact on the amount of time a child spends in play, new research has found.

Results from the ECU Play Project found that a child who spent an extra hour a day sleeping and being read to were more likely to engage in an extra 30 minutes of unstructured play per day.

Unstructured play is important for the cognitive, emotional and social development of children. Through play, children learn about sharing, decision making, resolving conflict, and abstract thought.

ECU School of Psychology and Social Science Lecturer, Dr Bronwyn Harman, is the lead researcher in The Play Project. She said the research emphasises the importance of a balance in activities for a child’s optimal health.

“There has been a long held belief in the importance of the three ‘R's: reading, writing and arithmetic. We contend the fourth ‘R’ – recreation – is as equally important,” she said.

The Play Project results came from quantitative research conducted in 2010 with parents of four year old children. A total of 564 participants were included in the survey.

The study showed that four year olds spent, on average:

  • 1.88 hours per day on television;
  • 1 hour per day reading;
  • 3 hours per day playing; and
  • 10.35 hours per day sleeping.

The research found that children who spent an hour a day at day care and an hour a day in structured activities such as dancing lessons or sports were less likely to participate in unstructured play.

However, Dr Harman said the results should not be interpreted as a criticism of day care.

“Day care and television both have their place in raising healthy children. This research emphasizes and reinforces the importance of balance in activities for optimal health and positive outcomes for Australian four year olds.”

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