How Corona has changed play for children

Nuremberg – The corona pandemic has turned upside down pretty much everything that was otherwise taken for granted by children. Suddenly, they were no longer allowed to roam freely outside, kindergartens and schools were closed for a long time, and they could no longer just meet with friends to play. It has also changed the way children play.

But will it also have long-term consequences?

“For the children, the two years are a longer emotional time than for us adults, a time that has had a great impact on them. Getting out of the thought patterns is difficult, “says Claudia Neumann from the German Children’s Foundation in Berlin. That’s why this year’s World Game Day on 28 May has the motto “We need play and movement – outside and together”.

Even before the pandemic, it was difficult for children to live out their urge to move, Neumann explains. On the one hand, the densely populated cities lack sufficient open and play areas, and on the other hand, children have some time for this in everyday school life. “When all the other tasks are done, the kids can play first.”

Corona has reinforced this trend, Neumann says. A study showed that families and children spent more time outside during the first shutdown in the spring because the online classes were not so well organized at that time. But there were also differences: Children in the cities moved less, also because school and club sports were no longer available.

In the second shutdown from the winter, everyone would have spent more time indoors – because of the cold temperatures and because a lot of school work had to be done.

Consumer behavior has changed

For the teacher Volker Mehringer from the University of Augsburg, there is no doubt that the pandemic had consequences for the game. “As the framework conditions change, so does the game,” he says. But there is still no solid scientific knowledge about how exactly the pandemic affected. “But you can read one or two things from consumer behavior.”

The toy industry was able to increase its sales to record levels in 2020 and 2021. “Employment was the order of the day,” says Ulrich Brobeil of the German Association of the Toy Industry (DSVI). Board games, puzzles, craft accessories and outdoor toys such as balls or sand molds were in particular demand.

“Playing was during corona therapy,” Brobeil says. Apparently for adults too. In a representative survey conducted by the opinion research institute YouGov on behalf of DSVI, 40 percent of respondents last year said that games had helped them through the pandemic period. 37 percent indicated that gambling will continue to be more important to them in the future.

Boom in parlor games

“Germany has always been a great festival country,” says Christin Lumme of the German Games Archive, whose collection includes 40,000 games from five centuries. “Corona has certainly given it a boost.” The good thing about parlor games is that everyone is the same at the game table. Children learned to stick to common rules, to win, but also to be able to lose.

During the Corona period, many families had more time for it because many other leisure activities were not possible, says Lumme. Online platforms where people can play board games together digitally have also boomed.

the importance of games

On World Play Day, the organizers will now put more focus on the importance of play for children. “Playing is the main occupation, especially for children,” says researcher Volker Mehringer. It is estimated that children up to the age of 6 spend 10,000 to 15,000 hours on it – and they learn unconsciously and with great fun.

“They create optimal learning conditions for themselves. Parents can give impulses. But above all, children need the freedom to make their own decisions and choose things that challenge them, ”says Mehringer.

From an adult perspective, a particular game may not always be immediately obvious. At second glance, one can often see how much motor skills, imagination and abstract thinking are being tested, says Mehringer. Yet parents often lack acceptance of free play, says expert Neumann. Instead, they are addicted to educational games. “It’s a paradox, because they’re not about playing at all.”

But free play is important for later in life, she says, “If you did not learn to let your imagination run free as a child, you can not do it as an adult either.”

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