What makes up a healthy 'Play Diet'?

The level of technology in toys today is on the rise, but just how important is digital play in the overall ‘Play Diet’? Robert Hutchins explores the concept.
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These days, most parents understand the importance of offering their kids a healthy diet. And for those who don’t, Jamie Oliver is probably on the case.

But how aware are parents of the less obvious ‘bad habits’ that can sneak into a child’s daily lifestyle?

When teachers around the UK voiced their concerns earlier this year that the rise in tablet addiction in children was harming their other skills such as using building blocks, their fears made national headlines.

And it’s no secret that tablet use in children between three and 15 years old is on the rise, with a reported 51 per cent of households in the UK owning a tablet compared to only seven per cent in 2011.

Now, as technology and toys draw ever closer together, child psychologists in the UK have shown support for the concept of the Healthy Play Diet, devised to help parents dish out ‘the treat of digital play with wholesome, traditional play proportionately’.

“A Play Diet is an easy to manage way of helping parents understand the importance of a balanced diet,” explains child psychologist and founder of the Good Toy Guide, Dr. Amanda Gummer.

“It features plenty of wholesome, healthy types of play and balances out children’s natural desire for treats, such as screen time.

“While it acknowledges the importance of free, imaginative, active and social play, it doesn’t demonise tech play or other less traditional past times.

“It gives parents guidance without dictating how to parent their children and helps them embrace a wide variety of play activities.”

And as the two types of play become less dichotomous, Gummer acknowledges just how beneficial digital play is for the children of today.

“There is something heartwarming about the image of children building dens and playing in the woods, but this is a romanticised ideal, and not an option for the vast majority of families in the UK,” says Gummer.

“Tech has a valuable role to play in helping children develop key skills for later life and understand how the world around them works. It’s much less about digital versus traditional play, it’s about how the two types of play are employed.”

While the rise of technology in toys seems to have found an enemy in the national press in recent years, many in the toy industry are also quick to defend its position.

“Play is a child’s work, it’s what they do to learn to be an adult, and it happens to be fun,” says Gary Pope, co-founder of the strategic and creative agency, Kids Industries.

“In that sense, digital play is incredibly important and when executed well, is fundamental to a healthy Play Diet.

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“Tech toys are and always will be a part of the future of play. Children couldn’t play with wheeled playthings until the wheel was invented,” he continues.

“This doesn’t mean traditional toys will become obsolete. It’s about balance.”

Gummer believes that just as children need fats and sugars to help them develop, so too do they need tech play.

“A child without digital play in their diet will either crave it and try to access it whenever possible, or grow up without any common ground with their peers, thus making friendships more difficult,” she says.

“It is much better to introduce all types of play and teach children to manage their time and balance their own Play Diet.”

For Pope, LEGO is one of the toy brands that in recent years has managed to embrace the concept of the balanced Play Diet.

Meanwhile, Gummer champions the play brand Karisma Kidz for its efforts in promoting positivity, happiness and confidence through its make believe universe Moodville.

“I believe there will always be a role for traditional toys,” Gummer tells ToyNews.

“Balls, playing cards, puzzles and magic tricks are very versatile. Traditional toys that work as stand alone toys, but have the option of tech play added in are likely to be successful as they span both play types.”

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