Special Issue "The Role of Play in Children’s Health and Development"


A special issue of Children (ISSN 2227-9067).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 June 2014)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. Ute Navidi

Independent International Consultant Former CEO of London Play and Consultant Director (now trustee of) Hillingdon Play Association International Play Association – Regional Vice President (Europe)
Phone: +44 787 650 4988
Interests: children’s rights; disabled children; children’s play; gender; internet safety; community empowerment; playing in nature

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The importance and benefits of play for the holistic development of children are not always appreciated by professionals working in fields such as child welfare, health, education, and housing. Whilst earlier generations of children often played freely outdoors, today’s children around the globe face many barriers to play, not least because of the ‘toxic’ environments humankind has created. Yet play “heralds the beginning of civilisation by imposing routines, rituals, and rules upon the expression of the universal primary and relentless adaptive emotions (loneliness, anger, fear, shock, disgust, and apathy)” (Brian Sutton-Smith). Play research has progressed our knowledge but has yet to reach wider audiences and influence practice. Many aspects of and assumptions surrounding play—and even definitions—remain controversial and subject to debate.

Play benefits all children, and has protective and preventative functions. With a focus on health, this special issue addresses: the benefits of play for children’s physical and mental health; play at different developmental stages; and the therapeutic power of play. “Opportunities for play can help children to work through difficult experiences, to make sense of life around them, to cope better with changes that have happened in their lives and sometimes to restore and heal them, as well as to provide fun, friendship and support positive relationships” (Theresa Casey). This online resource intends to provide a space where academics and practitioners can discuss, share knowledge and case studies, and find partners for joint projects and further studies with a focus on play and children’s well-being.

I look forward to receiving your contributions!

Dr. Ute Navidi
Guest Editor


Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Children is an international peer-reviewed Open Access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. For the first couple of issues the Article Processing Charge (APC) will be waived for well-prepared manuscripts. English correction and/or formatting fees of 250 CHF (Swiss Francs) will be charged in certain cases for those articles accepted for publication that require extensive additional formatting and/or English corrections.

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  • benefits of play
  • child development
  • children’s health
  • play
  • UNCRC article 31
  • risk
  • accidents
  • hospitalisation
  • mobility
  • obesity
  • trauma
  • autism
  • ADHD
  • therapy
  • piaget
  • disabled children
  • teenagers

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Displaying article 1-10
p. 211-227
by  and
Children 2015, 2(2), 211-227; doi:10.3390/children2020211
Received: 21 April 2015 / Revised: 21 April 2015 / Accepted: 15 May 2015 / Published: 29 May 2015
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p. 66-77
by ,  and
Children 2015, 2(1), 66-77; doi:10.3390/children2010066
Received: 17 July 2014 / Accepted: 14 January 2015 / Published: 29 January 2015
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p. 39-62
by  and
Children 2015, 2(1), 39-62; doi:10.3390/children2010039
Received: 14 July 2014 / Revised: 14 October 2014 / Accepted: 30 October 2014 / Published: 28 January 2015
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p. 474-488
Children 2014, 1(3), 474-488; doi:10.3390/children1030474
Received: 3 September 2014 / Revised: 24 November 2014 / Accepted: 27 November 2014 / Published: 9 December 2014
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p. 374-389
by  and
Children 2014, 1(3), 374-389; doi:10.3390/children1030374
Received: 27 June 2014 / Revised: 26 September 2014 / Accepted: 13 October 2014 / Published: 30 October 2014
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p. 339-354
Children 2014, 1(3), 339-354; doi:10.3390/children1030339
Received: 29 May 2014 / Revised: 22 September 2014 / Accepted: 22 September 2014 / Published: 22 October 2014
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p. 318-338
Children 2014, 1(3), 318-338; doi:10.3390/children1030318
Received: 21 May 2014 / Revised: 12 September 2014 / Accepted: 25 September 2014 / Published: 16 October 2014
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p. 280-301
Children 2014, 1(3), 280-301; doi:10.3390/children1030280
Received: 14 August 2014 / Revised: 17 September 2014 / Accepted: 18 September 2014 / Published: 1 October 2014
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p. 302-317
by ,  and
Children 2014, 1(3), 302-317; doi:10.3390/children1030302
Received: 30 June 2014 / Revised: 25 August 2014 / Accepted: 28 August 2014 / Published: 1 October 2014
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p. 241-260
by  and
Children 2014, 1(2), 241-260; doi:10.3390/children1020241
Received: 27 June 2014 / Accepted: 19 August 2014 / Published: 15 September 2014
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Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Children’s Play Environments after a Disaster: The Great East Japan Earthquake
: Isami Kinoshita
: Professor, Dr. at Chiba University, Japan
Abstract :
Almost three years since the Great East Japan Earthquake on 11 March 2011, children who lost their homes are still living in temporary accommodation. Those whose home town was polluted by radiation from the nuclear power station following the tsunami in Fukushima prefecture remain uncertain about when they will return home. Children who witnessed the terrible post-disaster scenery are still suffering from mental damage. Children’s play is the natural activity to help them recover.
Different types of play provision were targeted at these children: an adventure playground in Kesennuma, created by the Japanese Adventure Playground Network, mobile play in Sendai, Ishinomaki, and indoor playgrounds in Fukushima. However, most children have endured very poor play environments during the evacuation period as parks, school grounds and gymnastic halls where children used to play are temporarily used by evacuees. Lack of clear information about safety has led to rumours of radiation thus inhibiting children’s outdoor play. The result: an increase in childhood obesity and lack of exercise syndrome.
After three years, the situation is no longer temporary. A child’s right to play should be obeyed carefully in the recovery stage after a disaster.
nuclear radiation; post-disaster; tsunami; mental health; adventure play; mobile play; childhood obesity; recovery

Title: The role of play in children’s palliative care
: Sue Boucher1 and Julia Downing2
: 1Educator; Information Officer and Author, ICPCN and Shuter & Shooter Publishers, South Africa
2 International Palliative Care Consultant; Honorary Professor, Makere University, Uganda
Abstract: Play is the universal language of childhood and the time and opportunity to play is every child’s right. The role of play as a vehicle for communication, a tool for distraction and its value in the holistic development of a normal child is without dispute. The role and value of play increases proportionately when a child is made more vulnerable through illness or disability. Despite this, providing time and opportunities to play can be overlooked or considered to be of little importance or relevance when the focus of the adult carers is the amelioration of clinical symptoms of the illness and on lessening the psychological impact the illness may have on the child.
This paper outlines the role and the value of play as an integral component in the provision of palliative care for children with chronic, life-threatening and life-limiting conditions. It will show how providing appropriate equipment, sufficient time and relevant play opportunities not only improves the very sick child’s psychological wellbeing, but also allows the child to cast aside the confines and restrictions imposed upon them by their illness and for a few golden moments to be nothing more than a child at play. 
Keywords: children; role of play; value of play; life limiting illness; life threatening illness; psychological wellbeing

Title: Children’s Independent Mobility and Well-being
: Kumi Tashiro and LingHin Li
: Department of Real Estate and Construction, Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong
: In Hong Kong, children under the age of 11 are not allowed to be alone under any circumstances - neither outside their house nor at home. They always have to stay and travel with a guardian. In addition, many children join the extra curriculum after school and travel with an adult from school to cram school. This means there is almost no free time to play at play parks.
Our research shows that around 30 per cent of children do not go to the playground after school, and 34 per cent do not visit a friend’s house to play. One-quarter of all children do not play outside at weekends. Sixty-five per cent just stay at home in their spare time. Traditionally, family relationships are strong: 80 per cent of children have dinner with one of their parents more than three times per week and talk with them very much.
The birth rate in Hong Kong is below 1.0. This means a child always stays in environments among adults and they are accustomed to and seemingly satisfied with their situation. This phenomenon reduces children’s physical activities level and exercise habits. Frequency of experience of playing with friends or playing outside is controlled by their parents and depends on parents’ schedules and habits. In fact, Hong Kong government data show that children’s overweight and obesity levels are increasing year by year. The children’s independent mobility is not recognized as a problem and is therefore persisting. However this issue is not only important for children’s play but also for their physical and mental health and well-being.
Keywords: under-11s; extra curriculum; adult environments; independent mobility; childhood obesity; physical activities; exercise; outdoor play; mental health

Title: Prevention is Better than Cure: a Hands-on, Play-based, Innovative, Health and Well-being Program in Remote Australia
Author: Lis Mathiasen
Affiliation: Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital WA Inc (AWCH)
Abstract: A key to improving the quality of life in remote communities is the empowerment of children who are at health and educational risk. Between 2002 and 2009, at a remote Aboriginal school, students and community members participated in an innovative, health and well-being program aimed at helping them to become self-determining and responsible for their own health and well-being. Holistic in its approach, and broad in its scope, the multi-faceted program encompassed the fundamentals of personal hygiene; understanding of body systems; the importance of nutrition, hydration, sleep and exercise; brain care; the biology of emotions, with particular emphasis on anger management and the critical interplay between emotions and behavior; the impact of substances of abuse on the brain; as well as the Hospital Familiarization Program (HFP) which  prepares children for planned and unplanned hospitalization . Program outcomes included improved school attendance and student engagement; increased community awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle; improved self-concept, self-esteem and self-confidence; as well as increased respect and caring for self and others.  A reduction in children’s fear and anxiety when facing hospitalization and visits to the doctor was also evident. Each year, 12,500 children throughout Western Australia enjoy the benefits of the HFP.
Keywords: prevention; empowerment; physical health; mental health; play

Title: Open and Closed Image Toys in Children`s Play
Authors: Smirnova E and Sokolova M
Affiliation: Moscow State University of Psychology and Education
Abstract: Many modern image toys (dolls, toy animals) have mechanisms for reproducing sounds and movements, i.e. possess an intrinsic activity. Our study focused on the type of impact the activity of toys has on the play activity of the child. This experimental study included fixed-video observation and comparison of 90 children (2-3 and 4-6 years old) playing with active toys and ordinary toys. We recorded the emotions of the children, the nature and duration of the play actions and the role of speech. Observations showed that toddlers’ play with active toys was reduced to manipulations. In this age group, the child's play activity was blocked by the active mechanism of the toy. However the 4-6 year old children were able to overcome the toy mechanisms and include them in play stories. Nevertheless, the duration of play with ordinary toys was higher in both groups, the plots more varied, the role of speech richer, and children used more additional objects. This study has shown that toys with an inbuilt function inhibit child`s speech and play activity - the main base for their mental and emotional development and health.
Key words: play; children; toys; emotional wellbeing; mental health; activity; speech development; play stories

Title: The Attractiveness of the Children’s Playground – An Attempt of Empirical Research
Authors: Kotliar I.,Sokolova M.
Affiliations: 1 Moscow State University of Psychology and Education
2 Dubna International University for Nature, Society and Man       
Abstract: Today people need live, safe and healthy cities. We investigated how a megalopolis meets children`s needs in play, movement and communication. We evaluated a new method which helps to analyze the quality of the playground environment, and opportunities for the psychological and physical health and development of children.
Data was collected in 2013 through 367 structured observations for two months on 16 public playgrounds in the center of Moscow. 30% preschool children and only 11% schoolchildren visited the play areas. They spent little time outdoors.
Analysis of activities of children on the playground showed that they are more likely to use the objects directly, manipulate them and repeat actions (73%) than interact or transform (27%). Children quickly lost interest in objects and changed activities.
Children were seldom involved in productive activities: play (15%), experimentation only 0.5% - leading activities in the child ontogenesis. This suggests that typical city playground objects do not meet the child`s needs by involving him/her in healthy activities and they need rethinking and transformation.
Key words: children, playground, attractiveness, method, play, psychological health, physical health, experimentation

Title: Making Children’s Play a Public Health Issue

Author: Dr. Ute Navidi
Affiliation: International Independent Expert and Consultant; International Play Association Regional Vice President (Europe); formerly Chief Executive of London Play
Abstract: Public health – “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through the organised efforts of society” (Acheson, 1988) – is often measured by a collection of socio-economic indicators assessing health status, prevalence of disease, injury, unhealthy behaviours, morbidity and disability. These allow comparison and provide information to policy makers; financial, material and human resources are then allocated accordingly. Some areas which contribute to promoting and protecting public health may be difficult to measure and are often contentious.
This article suggests an expansion of the portfolio of scientific measures of the public’s health, to include provision for children’s play. This would address children and young people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, and justify targeting policies and resources for play in children’s lives, including in their neighbourhoods and institutions, as preventative measures. The suggestion anticipates challenges posed for policy makers and practitioners to provide evidence for the claim that children’s play is beneficial. Therefore, a discussion of children’s health and wellbeing measures including international indicator frameworks (which currently do not acknowledge play explicitly) will be followed by a comparison between two diverse countries – the UK and Portugal. Within the context of ageing societies and focusing on childhood obesity, the case for a new socio-medical indicator on children’s play will be presented, supported by various examples from local communities. The limitation of using a play indicator to make a causal link with health is recognised, whilst making play a public health issue is essentially a matter of political choice and prioritisation.
Keywords: public health, indicators, prevention, United Kingdom, Portugal, childhood obesity, overweight, socio-medical indicator, children, play

Title: Turning the World Upside Down: Playing as the Deliberate Creation of Uncertainty
Authors: Stuart Lester and Wendy Russell
Affiliations: University of Gloucestershire, UK
Risk is big business. It has assumed almost universal acceptance as an ever-present reality of life, something out there that waiting to cause harm (most notably to political, economic and health systems). It commands vast resources to develop preventative measures that are the preserve of ‘experts’ issuing often contradictory advice and warnings.
Children’s play is caught up in this account. No longer something that children just do, it is subject to adult scrutiny that simultaneously and paradoxically attempts to manage risk and promote ‘risk-taking’ for its perceived instrumental benefits, primarily the development of risk assessing skills. Adults thus guide children’s play, rendering children passive and needy recipients of expertise.
This article takes a broader perspective to argue that a defining characteristic of a number of play forms is the deliberate creation of uncertainty within the relative safety of the play frame, offering emotional vitality that makes things better for the time of playing, building openness to novelty, and providing the foundations for both being and becoming well.
Key words: playing, uncertainty, risk, hope, well-being


Title: The Healing Power of Play: therapeutic playwork with abused children
Author: Dr. Fraser Brown
Affiliation: Professor, Leeds Metropolitan University
This article concerns a therapeutic playwork intervention with a group of abandoned children living in a Romanian paediatric hospital. The children, ranging in age from one to ten years old, had suffered chronic neglect and abuse. They had previously spent most of their lives tied in the same cot in the same hospital ward. They were poorly fed and their nappies were rarely changed. Although able to see and hear other children, they experienced little in the way of social interaction. The article focuses on the play-based methods that were employed to aid the children’s recovery, while at the same time highlighting the general benefits of the playwork approach for the children’s development. In particular there is focus on such concepts as symbolic representation, negative capability, joining, and the significance of play cues. Nevertheless, the general conclusion is that the most powerful healing factor was the unfettered playful interaction between the children themselves. In other words, the children in a very real sense healed each other.
benefits of play; child development; children’s health; mental health; play; playwork; UNCRC article 31; trauma; autism; therapy; recovery

Last update: 12 February 2016

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