“It helps differentiate us from machines: it helps equip us with the skills like creativity, critical-thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and communication,” said John Goodwin, CEO of the LEGO Foundation, speaking to Apolitical from the World Economic Forum 2018 in Davos. “That’s why we think play is such an important priority.”
For the world leaders gathered in the Swiss Alps, one of the key questions was how workers can adapt to a changing global economy. “There’s a lot of discussion around the skilling and re-skilling in the fourth industrial revolution,” said Goodwin, “and the need for human capital to be a focal point.”
“56% of children around the world spend less time outdoors than maximum security prisoners in the US”
As a result, the LEGO Foundation is teaming up with commercial giants Unilever and Ikea to launch the “Real Play Coalition”: a program looking to highlight the importance of play in children’s development.
The global play crisis
Millions of children lack access to safe spaces for “Real Play” – defined as hands-on, exploratory play – which is essential to learn and develop the skills they need for work and life more generally. The coalition partners have pointed to research suggesting that, staggeringly, 56% of children around the world spend less time outdoors than maximum security prisoners in the US.
Pooling their resources together, the aim of the coalition is to create a body of evidence to drive an increase in play opportunities for children around the world. “Our hope is that governments will take note and then reflect on how they should adjust their policies in order to ensure there’s adequate space throughout the course of the day to facilitate learning through play, said Goodwin.
He argues that children’s lives have become far too “overscheduled” and “overpressured”. This is in part due to “testing, measurement and assessment” which “prematurely inhibits and prevents the child from their natural development.” Meanwhile, in low-income countries, pressures like being put to work can also hamper child development.
These arguments have been common in academia for some time. Peter Gray, for example, a professor at Boston College, has been outspoken on the decline of play in modern societies and its impact on children’s psychological development – even linking a lack of play in the US to a number of mental health issues.
Building a movement
In a campaign to create more play around the world, the LEGO Foundation – which holds a 25% stake in the toymaker – is aware of problems regarding conflict of interest. “We don’t hide the fact that our benefactor is the LEGO Group: that’s why we’re called the LEGO Foundation,” said Goodwin. “I think people will judge us through our work, and we represent play in its totality.”
“We run many programs that don’t utilise LEGO products or bricks at all,” he pointed out. “But we’re not going to deliberately avoid using it when we believe it’s actually the right thing to do.”
Goodwin’s hope is that the power and reach of the three founding partners can kick-start a wider movement for children’s play. “When you’re looking to drive societal change, if you can come together with like minds then you have a much higher probability of success.”
“We wanted to use Davos as the opportunity, given the spotlight on the event, to kick off the coalition,” he said. “The hard work of mapping out the playbook is ahead of us now.”
(Picture credit: Edelman)