Free time outside the classroom is essential to a child's development and is being ignored, say experts Primary schools need to give children more play time and to introduce a greater variety in games to enhance their learning experience, education researchers said yesterday. The recommendations came after a survey of primary school students, parents and teachers showed that they all wanted more play time. The survey was conducted by Hong Kong Baptist University's centre for child development. It interviewed 395 children, from six to 12 years old from a total of five local boys and girls schools. In addition, 387 parents and 164 teachers from the same schools were polled. Anna Hui Na-na, head of the university's child development centre, said playing was an important learning activity in a child's development and was being ignored. 'It is the only thing where they get self initiation and autonomy,' she said. 'Self-initiation experiences reinforce their motivation for learning.' Ninety per cent of children interviewed said they enjoyed play time. The results also showed that more children opted for activities such as socialising, eating, reading or studying during breaks between classes. The tendency for children to chat during breaks increases with age, while their tendency to eat decreases with age. More boys play than girls and most play in groups of two to four. Ms Hui said schools could create more games regardless of their limited resources. By way of example, she suggested using discarded materials such as cardboard boxes as a chalkboard for children to draw. Board games were also recommended. Tang Kwai-tai, principal of Queen Elizabeth School Old Students' Association Primary School in Tin Shui Wai, said he managed to lengthen break time for his pupils two years ago by changing their routine for returning to class. Rather than requiring children to assemble before returning to class, he has the children walk back in two single files. They then head for their classrooms separately. Mr Tang said it meant he could lengthen break time from 20 minutes to about 30 minutes. Most schools have two breaks between classes each day. The survey recommended that teachers and parents organise sessions with each other to better structure activities during breaks. It also recommended that teachers could increase awareness of the value of playtime to children by getting properly trained.