Parents play down children's right to fun

SCMP, April 6, 2001: Primary school children are overworked and under-played, according to research released yesterday.

What little time children had for play after study was dominated by educational toys picked by their parents, the research claimed. Mothers were the chief playmates of many children, rather than siblings or friends nearer their age.

The research was conducted by the University of Hong Kong's Department of Social Work and Social Administration and the Playright Children's Playground Association.

The researchers advocated changing the primary school system to allow more child-directed play, for example, by having longer breaks and including play activities in the school curriculum.

Parents had to learn to 'let go' and stop trying to control how their children played, said Clara Yip Sui-yee, Playright's research and communications manager. 'The reason to play is to have fun, not to learn the ABC,' she said.

The researchers suggested that play helped to develop social skills, logical thought, creativity, problem-solving and language skills. Parents should also help children meet peers and provide different play spaces, they said. Fathers as well as mothers needed to be involved.

The study surveyed 162 parents who used 'toy libraries', while in-depth interviews were conducted with 14 parents.

When asked about the benefits of play, 60 per cent of parents listed cognitive development, compared with 40 per cent who named leisure or fun and 30 per cent who mentioned physical development. They could nominate more than one benefit.

Parents picked toys from the toy library more often than children, the study found. And 60 per cent of parents who picked toys said they chose them on the basis of their educational value.

In interviews with researchers, some parents made the following comments:

'On weekends actually she has little time to play because she has to prepare for school work the next week, such as dictation, revision.'

'Our children can't play in the face of Hong Kong's education system.'

'It's a big change when going to Primary One. It's a tragedy. She asked a lot of questions like why couldn't she play. Now she understands a bit. That is, she has to make an effort to study in order to achieve.'

'For adults, we may go to karaoke after work but for children, where can they go to release their tension?'

The university's chair professor of education, Cheng Kai-ming, said there was a Chinese saying: 'Study is always beneficial and playing is always disadvantageous.'

However, the world had changed and very few jobs did not require communication skills, team work and the ability to deal with human relationships that play offered, he said. The education system had to change.

'Students may get very high scores at A-level, but are a little bit dumb when it comes to human relationships,' he said. 'We have a motto asking schools to teach less to allow children to learn more.'


dominate (v) to control or govern

advocate (v) to recommend a course of action publicly

curriculum (n) all the courses of study offered by a school or college

logical (adj) characterised by clear, sound reasoning

cognitive (adj) of or relating to the mental process of gaining knowledge

dictation (n) the act of reading out words to be taken down in writing

tension (n) situation or condition of hostility, suspense or uneasiness

Discussion points

Are children overworked and under-played?

Do you think play is important in today's society?

Should the education system introduce more time for play?