Cambridge IELTS 14, Test 1, Reading Passage 1 – THE IMPORTANCE OF CHILDREN’S PLAY

THE IMPORTANCE OF CHILDREN’S PLAY
Brick by brick, six-year-old Alice is building a magical kingdom. Imagining fairy-tale turrets and fire-breathing dragons, wicked witches and gallant heroes, she’s creating an enchanting world. Although she isn’t aware of it, this fantasy is helping her take her first steps towards her capacity for creativity and so it will have important repercussions in her adult life.

Minutes later, Alice has abandoned the kingdom in favour of playing schools with her younger brother. When she bosses him around as his ‘teacher’, she’s practising how to regulate her emotions through pretence. Later on, when they tire of this and settle down with a board game, she% learning about the need to follow rules and take turns with a partner.
‘Play in all its rich variety is one of the highest achievements of the human species,’ says

Dr David Whitebread from the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, UK. ‘It underpins how we develop as intellectual, problem-solving adults and is crucial to our success as a highly adaptable species.’
Recognising the importance of play is not new: over two millennia ago, the Greek philosopher Plato extolled its virtues as a means of developing skills for adult life, and ideas about play-based learning have been developing since the 19th century.
But we live in changing times, and Whitebread is mindful of a worldwide decline in play, pointing out that over half the people in the world now live in cities. ‘The opportunities for free play, which I experienced almost every day of my childhood, are becoming increasingly scarce,’ he says. Outdoor play is curtailed by perceptions of risk to do with traffic, as well as parents’ increased wish to protect their children from being the victims of crime, and by the emphasis on ‘earlier is better’ which is leading to greater competition in academic learning and schools.
International bodies like the United Nations and the European Union have begun to develop policies concerned with children’s right to play, and to consider implications for leisure facilities and educational programmes. But what they often lack is the evidence to base policies on.
‘The type of play we are interested in is child-initiated, spontaneous and unpredictable — but, as soon as you ask a five-year-old “to play”, then you as the researcher have intervened,’ explains Dr Sara Baker. ‘And we want to know what the long-term impact of play is. It’s a real challenge.’

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