What exactly is age appropriate play?

While putting together my previous blog, a good friend suggested that ‘age appropriate play just doesn’t exist anymore’. The thought of this made me quite sad, but it also made me evaluate its truth. What is age appropriate? Who determines that?

Before I go any further, a disclaimer! This is not a blog around safeguarding. I think we can all agree there is a very clear line in the sand for appropriate play in that context. This is more about the ‘average child’. Who decides what is appropriate for an 11 year old? The same friend who asked the original question also made this stark observation:

‘One year 5 girl may still play with dolls at home but would never admit it to her friends for fear of being bullied’.

In my experience this isn’t just the case at primary age. I have worked with many year 7 children who still have dolls, toy cars, train sets, teddy bears etc at home. How many times have we all heard about pupils into early teens (and lets face it some grown men and women) playing games like Minecraft? Who defines it’s appropriateness across the age range? Is an acceptable to play games like this at any age because it doesn’t really affect us in school too much?

During more than 1 Christmas period I have had year 7 classes openly talking about Santa in lessons! There were plenty of rolled eyes from those pupils who did not believe but, fair play to them, they kept their mouth shut and let the magic continue for their peers (I wish the little girl in the earlier comment had such caring classmates). In itself, this doesn’t really affect us as secondary staff, or make much difference to how we would teach them (Although here I feel another blog coming about teaching and learning in a KS3 classroom). School is not just a classroom though is it! So, what does affect schools? Playtime! In year 7 what games are pupils allowed to play? Are they allowed to play at all? What are your schools break time rules?

While there are lots of children who are academically and emotionally ready to move to secondary school, by late May in a lot of cases, they are still having Playtime everyday. Still playing TAG, Football, Races, Roll Play, the list is endless, and this is not only allowed but encouraged. It allows the youngsters to let off steam, develop creativity or just burn off some energy. Fast Forward just 6 weeks and most of those opportunities are gone! They are now at secondary school and shouldn’t need that level of play. I ask, why not? I understand all the arguments about Heath and Safety, the number of pupils now to think about and the sheer size of the site to cover with staff. However – have schools started to define what play is appropriate without taking the individuals ‘normal’ into consideration?

I do understand that I am generalising here. I know that there are many schools who have special areas for year 7 to play, even if it is in the short term while they get used to the new ways of school. I also fully understand the constraints that schools are under, length of time for social interaction, size of site, staffing and of course the need to help the children grow into young adults. I would simply like to question if deciding what is appropriate play at secondary age is the best way to do that for some. Nothing I ever write will be with the intention to criticise. I simply hope to offer some opportunity for reflection and to consider things that might not have been on our radar before! I certainly don’t plan on offering any solutions, I wouldn’t dare to assume I can do that without any context (unless I am asked to! I have 100’s of ideas as you can imagine!)!

I posed a question as the title of this blog – What exactly is age appropriate play? Maybe I should have added the tag line – and do we/should we give children opportunity to experience it?