Consequently, they have less time and opportunity to play than did children in the previous generations. A recent report produced by Elkind reveals that between 1997- 2003, children’s time spent in outdoor play fell by 50%². In the last 20 years, children have lost over 8 hours of unrestricted playtime per week3. Should we then be worried by this new trend? Is play such a strong indicator of children’s well-being?
In fact, the study of play and the relationship between play and children’s healthy development and learning have a long history. Following Plato, who argued that “Our children from their earliest years must take part in all the more lawful forms of play, for if they are not surrounded with such an atmosphere they can never grow up to be well conducted and virtuous citizens”4, many others, including philosophers, historians, biologists, psychologists, and educators came to conclusion that indeed play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth. It has been proven that play is central not only in ensuring correct physical development and fitness by also an important ingredient in learning, allowing children to become creative, discover their own passions, develop problem- solving skills, and manage their own behavior and emotions5. The importance of play has even been recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as a right of every child6. Given these findings it is perhaps shocking that play has been recently devalued in our culture.
If problem solving, communication, collaboration, innovation, and creative thinking are to remain part of our legacy as a species then play must be restored to its rightful place at the heart of childhood. This ultimately means the need to advocate strongly in support of play for all children. Federation of the European Play Industry (FEPI) does just that. It is a unique European platform representing in Brussels the interests of the play industry manufacturers vis-a-vis the European institutions (www-fepi-play.org). One of FEPI's main goals is to raise awareness of the importance of children's play for the well being of children.
Consequently, FEPI is involved in several projects bringing this issue to the attention of the European public and EU policy makers. For instance, FEPI is actively participating in International Sport and Culture Associasion’s (ISCA) Health Promotion programs and strategies, such as the SANTE and the MOVE projects. The former is an ambitious effort of 17 partners across Europe representing sport organisations, estemeed universities, businesses and local government, which addresses and acts upon the contemporary challenge of improving Europeans’ health by organizing national health campaigns, education and training of health professionals, project exchanges such as study tours, expert consultations and bilateral workshops based on learning and discussions of good practices and many more. The latter, aims to identify, qualify and implement good practices in cross-cutting community initiatives to promote health-enhancing physical activity in socio-economically disadvantaged areas. FEPI is particpating in these projects with the overall aim of making a Play Industry a relevant and important reference point in the work to raise the profile of play for all children. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of playgrounds available for children across Europe, ensuring that every child can easily access play areas within walking distance from their place of residence, so that the healthy habit of performing daily physical activity continues and is perpetuated through to adulthood.
FEPI also takes part in other projects, such as Practical Guidelines for European Cities on the Promotion of Children’s Physical Activities. These Guidelines provide solutions for the Implementation of physical activity programmes among children for decision-makers in municipalities from the sections sports, youth, health, school as well as sports associations. Within the regulations of the European Commission these guidelines could work as pioneer for the new physical activity promotion programs, including those aimed at promoting play.
FEPI also conducts advocacy activities aimed at increasing the Play Industry sector’s visibility. An example would be FEPI’s participation in the Platform on Nutrition, Health and Physical Activity. Established in March 2005 by the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers, Platform serves as a forum where interested actors including European civil servants, European and national politicians and other sectors stakeholders, could report and discuss their planned contributions to the pursuit of healthy nutrition, physical activity and the fight against obesity. FEPI takes part in the Platform meetings every year with the objective of presenting its perspective on health challenges and providing innovative ideas and approaches such as the Capital of Play Award, designed to tackle the problem of children’s overweight and obesity related issues, by encouraging children to regular psychical activity through play.
As expressed above, FEPI, the Federation of the European Play Industry is truly concerned that the escalating and growing tendencies of younger generations such as obesity, overweight, and lack of physical activity will negatively affect the economic, health and overall balance of contemporary developed societies. In this respect, FEPI encourages manufacturers and distributors of both outdoor and indoor play equipment and safety surfacing in Europe to join the Federation so as to jointly put pressure on the European, national and local political institutions to proactively initiate and coordinate explicit strategies or actions, aimed at increasing physical playing activities and promoting the overall movement of younger generations.