Parental Perceptions About the Importance of Play in the First Three Years
Play is a universal and innate disposition that is believed to be one of the most significant components to holistic wellbeing and development during the foundational years of childhood. Research and literature examining the topic of play in early childhood suggests that while unstructured and child directed play is valued, its existence is under threat. Instead, it is being replaced by structured, educational, and adult directed activities which aim to accelerate young children’s learning. Due to these conflicting paradigms, and a lack of research exploring parental values in this area, this quantitative study examined parental perceptions towards structured and unstructured play for children under the age of three years. In order to investigate this topic, 255 New Zealand parents, with children not in full-time childcare and under the age of three years, participated in an anonymous online survey. The survey was designed specifically for this study due to a lack of pre-existing measures. The main finding was that parental perception influenced the way in which infants and toddlers spent their time. The majority of parents perceived unstructured play to best support early development and, consequently, offered children a large amount of daily time to become involved in freely chosen unstructured play. The study also identified that: the more weekly activities a child engaged in, the higher structured play was valued by parents; older parents did not value structured play as highly as younger parents; parents with a tertiary level qualification valued unstructured play more than those parents with a school qualification or less; screen time was perceived to be more appropriate the older the child. These findings were discussed in relation to the implications they raise for the role of the parent, early childhood education, parent education, and child development and wellbeing.