"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." Plato

Play | Tākaro is in crisis

Remember back when you were a child, those great days of play in New Zealand, where you roamed free, with total abandonment. “Be back by dark” was the call as we raced out the door into another day of adult-free adventure, discovery, challenges – and most importantly, fun. Whether it was the rural countryside, newly developing suburbs, the school grounds or our backyards, these spaces were ready-made play spaces. We played our way to school, to sports practice and club gatherings, and we were free to get there on our own.

Through play we determined where in the world we were, and who and what else we shared it with – it was where we practised our future life.

But play is in crisis. Barriers such as a new wave of urban environments that limit or remove access to spaces and places to play, the advent of digital devices which are overtaking and even discouraging children to use their imagination and creativity by inventing their own games and activities, and a over abundance of structured activities which parents and caregivers often feel are "necessary" for the wellbeing of their children, are removing opportunities for our tamariki to play. For them to engage in unstructured, unfiltered, child-led fun.

While devices and structured activities all have a place in today's world, and can provide valuable learning and development opportunities, experts recognise that these shouldn't come at the sacrifice of unstructured play. The value in this kind of play far outweighs the benefits of these other forms of activity.

But what IS play Tākaro?

Play is:

• intrinsically motivated – it is spontaneous and will happen anywhere

• personally directed – it has limited or no adult involvement

• freely chosen – it is self-determined and has no pre-determined outcome

• fun, accessible, challenging, social and repeatable.

" Play is the universal language of childhood." Play Scotland

Why is it so important?

We all know play is fun. It sparks creativity, it stimulates brain development, and it encourages a huge range of physical, cognitive, and emotional skills as children negotiate, cooperate, and collaborate their way through their games. 

The positive benefits of all that running, jumping, climbing, and imaginative play include:

• being physically active in a fun way that develops fundamental movement skills

• encouraging self-directed creativity and innovation • improving social and emotional connection

• improving a young person’s understanding of their relationship with the physical environment

• improving resilience, independence and leadership by determining their own outcomes

• aiding better decision-making based around elements of challenge and risk.

In essence, play is fundamentally important in a child's development, physically, cognitively, and emotionally. 

Play Tākaro in Southland

Here in the deep south we love to play. And through collaborations such as the one that exists here at Active Southland, where we are working alongside the Invercargill City, and Southland and Gore District Councils to encourage the creation of urban spaces that provide time, space, and permission to play, we are starting to make some changes.

​​​​​​​The Neighbourhood Play System pilot in East Gore (Read more), the Play Streets initiatives that came out of funding from Waka Kotahi (Read more), and the establishment of roles such as the Healthy Active Learning team, and the Healthy Families Invercargill Play Innovator, are just some of the ways we are encouraging and supporting play in our region.

But YOU have a role to play too. Check out this video to find out how you can start.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Fun Resources


Talk to your Healthy Active Learning Facilitator to book stencils or email: play@activesouthland.co.nz

Healthy Families NZ National Play Impact Report

Play is our first language. When we speak about play, we are referring to unstructured activity - without rules, timeframes or scheduled training. Through play, we build physical capabilities - balance, fitness, and strength. When playing with others, we learn valuable negotiation skills, concepts of sharing and friendships, all of which improves our health and wellbeing.

Healthy Families NZ is committed to working with communities to firstly understand what these barriers are, and secondly, find ways to create local solutions that enable play.

Read more about how our Healthy Families NZ locations are doing exactly that.