New Play Paradigms & Technology Paradox | PDD

New Play Paradigms & Technology Paradox

By Sarita

on March 11 2020

In this final instalment of our kids’ series, we are going to delve into the wonderful world of play to uncover new approaches within this space and the role of our old ‘friend and foe’, technology…   

The importance of play for children is widely researched and recognised as a vital part of human development; building and strengthening physical, emotional, social and cognitive aspects, not to mention allowing kids to develop and express their imagination. But ‘play’ has undergone some significant shifts over the past decade or so; with the pervasiveness of technology in play creating fears over the impact of screen time on kids’ health, cognitive and social development. With this in mind, we’ve put together a little summary of some of the key trends happening in ‘play’, along with the evolving behaviours and attitudes of parents.

Time to play…

Shocking as it may seem, kids are increasingly struggling to find time in their busy lives for play. Driven largely by a concern of the kinds of jobs and futures children can expect, parents and educators are putting an increased focus on supporting and enhancing academic studies with the likes of additional evening and weekend subject boosting classes, more structured after school clubs and increased amounts of homework.

A combination of these extra-curricular activities has resulted in less time for kids to engage with unstructured, self-directed play. And this seems to be happening globally too, the LEGO Play Well Report highlighted: “Chinese children spend an average of 7 hours 30 minutes a week on homework, with an additional 6 hours per week spent on after-school clubs and activities; significantly higher than the global average of 4 hours and 40 minutes of homework and 3 hours and 48 minutes spent on after-school activities a week. While in Saudi Arabia, 30% of children spend more than 10 hours a week on homework, and 4 hours 48 minutes on after-school clubs and activities.”

kids play trends learning

Toys to boost STEM subjects…

We have seen an increase of both new and established brands introducing a range of toys that focus on STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, maths), as well as coordination, innovation and resourcefulness. Even though STEM learning has been in education since 2000 and gained momentum across the globe, some traditional school curriculums don’t offer kids the content that will best prepare them for a career in innovation and problem-solving. So it’s of no real surprise that these types of toys are being favoured by parents seeking to bridge educational gaps and provide an additional, fun means of learning outside of the school environment.

Amazon in the U.S. has created STEM Club, a monthly toy subscription box that delivers age-appropriate STEM toys handpicked by Amazon’s Toy Experts, to customer’s door for a flat monthly rate ($19.99). Customers select the age (3-4 years, 5-7 years or 8-13 years) and a plan option that works for them; ranging from deliveries monthly, every 2 months or every 3 months. A new addition for 2020, the STEM Club subscription now includes a “limited selection of Arts and Crafts to encourage creativity, inspire imagination and innovation in children”.

kids play trends stem club

Image credit: Amazon STEM Club

The rise of outdoor exploration & risky play…

Although outdoor play for children has experienced a steady decline over recent years, we are starting to see this slowly pick up again in popularity thanks to the more laid-back parenting style of Millennials, who are using outdoor, active and risky play as a means to allow their kids the freedom to take calculated risks and make decisions themselves.

This parenting cohort is actively rejecting what had become the dominant parental norm of their parents that said ‘being a good parent is being a controlling parent’, and as a result, are creating a more laid-back and less structured environment for their kids. Playground design is starting to be readdressed in many countries, with the development of ‘Adventure Playgrounds’ that allow for more unstructured play and allows youngsters to take more calculated risks “these are spaces that look like scrap yards, with loose tires, blocks of wood, rope, and tools like hammers and nails, where children are free to build and destroy their surroundings as they choose”.

Non-profit organisation play:groundNYC is advocating for young people’s rights by providing playworker-run environments that encourage risk-taking, experimentation and freedom through self-directed play. They work directly with communities to establish their own neighbourhood playgrounds and play initiatives.

kids play trends  play ground NYC

Image credit: play:groundNYC

Focus on ‘soft skills’…

While the educational focus for most parents tends to be around STEM subjects, many are also now placing increasing importance on helping their kids develop ‘soft skills’ (communication, empathy, interpersonal relationships, emotional maturity, problem-solving, and accountability) as part of a more rounded and balanced development.

What’s more, many businesses globally are now highlighting the importance of ‘soft skills’ in prospective recruits, an area that will be amplified over the next coming years. 71.9% of CEOs surveyed across Asia Pacific believe that soft skills are more important than hard skills for their business.

Traditionally ‘soft skills’ aren’t taught in a structured way in schools, however, research from The London School of Economics has indicated that “a trial of a new curriculum [Healthy Minds] to improve soft skills in secondary school children has shown that it can boost their physical health and behaviour, as well as changing their career aspirations”.

The Healthy Minds curriculum was trialled with 3,500 children aged 11-12 in 34 English secondary schools over a four year period and included elements on building resilience, navigating social media, looking after mental health, developing healthy relationships and understanding the responsibilities of being a parent.

Technology paradox kids play trends the laser boutique

Image credit: The Laser Boutique 

A new wave of mini creators…  

We have witnessed a technology paradox within the context of play for a number of years now, becoming both ‘friend and foe’ to parents across the globe. The debate about children’s screen time has shifted from a concern over quantity to a question of quality; as a result, we are seeing parents and educators alike demanding digital products and tech that encourages children to play an active role in creating it, rather than merely passively consuming it.

What’s more, kids whose parents curate and mentor screen encounters benefit more than kids whose parents are less involved; with Millennial parents leading the way in helping their kids develop a more positive and productive relationship with technology. The result of this more positive shift in mindset around tech is a new wave of mini creators who, even from a young age, are accustom to the concepts of ‘co-design’ and ‘rapid-customisation’ enabled through a growing availability of tech and services.

Technology paradox kids play trends toy box

Image credit: Toybox

Perhaps one of the most child-friendly 3D printers on the market at the moment, Toybox, allows kids to print toys directly from the app, without the need to master any CAD skills to get started. While the catalogue has hundreds of toys that kids can instantly print, there is also a ‘Creator Space’ that allows young users to make their own creations through easy-to-use apps and tools. We hope to see this type of technology in schools and homes more in the not too distant future, helping to excite the next generation designers and creators!  

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