Aussie study showcases the impact of play on bringing children together - Education Matters Magazine
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Aussie study showcases the impact of play on bringing children together

New research from LEGO Australia has highlighted the potential of play in fostering connection and understanding among children of varied backgrounds.

LEGO Australia commissioned the ‘Building Bridges’ report to recognise the impact of play in helping children develop skills for learning about people that don’t ‘look like them’.

The findings reveal that while most Australian parents believe it is important for their child to be able to meet and learn about children of differing experiences, there is an uncertainty in how to facilitate these opportunities.

With one in four (25%) Australian children being raised with a diverse cultural influence and 16% with a disability, children around the country will celebrate the ultimate universal holiday collectively, but differently.

According to the Building Bridges report, three in four (75%) parents believe socialisation with children of differing backgrounds, cultures or abilities to be the most effective way to increase their child’s understanding of children different to themselves.

However, one in three (33%) parents admit their child has a lack of exposure to those who are different to them or are unsure how to facilitate these connections for their children.

To deepen the understanding of these findings, LEGO Australia conducted the Social Play Experiment – a social experiment designed to examine how children’s interactions can influence their understanding of others.

Led by child psychology expert Dr Penny Van Bergen, the experiment brought together children who had not met, and were of varied backgrounds across cultures, abilities and ages. The experiment looked to compare groups of children across two different rooms – one was devoid of play or stimulation, the other was an environment filled with toys and joyous scenes.

The results were clear: play unites. When in the blank room, the children were awkward and shy, avoiding interaction, sitting in uncomfortable silence, visibly unsure how to interact with the others around them. When introduced to the play-rich environment, their behaviours transformed. The children introduced themselves to one another for the first time, collaborated on building projects, and came alive over their shared passion for creative expression.

“Play is critical for so many aspects of children’s development. When children play with others, they have fantastic new opportunities to practise their social skills, stretch their imagination, develop empathy for others, and co-create new inventions they might not have thought of alone,” Dr Van Bergen said.

“It was fascinating to see how quickly the children transformed when they were given the opportunity to play together in the Social Play Experiment. Play really is a universal language.”

The findings were supported by data from the Building Bridges report, which found two in three (64%) parents emphasised creative play as the most effective form of play to improve the understanding of children with different cultural backgrounds or abilities, when compared to role-play and pretend play, sports and music, and digital play.

The Building Bridges report paints a powerful picture of the impact play has on a child’s development. Almost 100% of parents, grandparents and carers surveyed believe play is important in developing social skills.

According to the report, 43% of carers raising their children who identify with a culture other than Australian noticed play improved their child’s understanding of different cultures, whereas 64% of carers raising children with a disability believe play improved their understanding of different abilities.

The research was conducted by Antenna in October 2023 with a sample of 1,080 Australian parents, grandparents and carers. The data was national, and respondents were sourced using an accredited online research access panel. Data was weighted for representation against Australian 2021 census data.

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