Business

Children 'need to play more to gain work skills'

Children playing Image copyright Getty Images

Children will lack the work skills they need in the future because they are not spending enough time playing, a Lego executive has warned.

John Goodwin, head of Lego's charitable arm the Lego Foundation, says less time in the classroom and more time playing is the solution.

The foundation has a 25% stake in the Danish toy maker, giving it a vested interest in encouraging play.

Mr Goodwin admits there could be a perceived conflict of interest.

However, he says the foundation's aim is much broader.

Mr Goodwin is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, the annual gathering of top business and political leaders, in a bid to persuade them of the importance of play.

He took over running the foundation last year after a spell as Lego's chief financial officer.

He hopes the Davos elite will put pressure on governments to make education more play-based.

If not, he believes companies will find it increasingly difficult to hire the type of staff they need: "Critical thinking and problem solving starts in early childhood development. It's where the foundations are laid."

Mr Goodwin said technological advances, particularly the growth of the internet, meant that knowledge itself had become obsolete.

Instead he said it was now more important to teach children how to learn, and work things out for themselves, with play being one way to achieve this goal.

Yet in a warning that will be familiar to many parents, the Lego Foundation chief says the "increasingly overscheduled world" of children has resulted in less time for them to do so.

This could have "serious long term consequences" for companies, he said.

Image caption Lego Foundation chief John Goodwin has his contact details on a Lego figure rather than a conventional business card

Mr Goodwin is not the first to warn about the issue: several studies have linked a drop in play with negative consequences.

Dr Peter Gray, a US psychologist and professor at Boston College, has argued that the fact children play less has led to an increase in childhood mental disorders including anxiety and depression, as well as a decline in empathy.

"In play, children themselves must decide what to do and how, and they must solve their own problems… and thereby develop competence and confidence," he wrote recently.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright and artist Paul Klee were also strong advocates of "block play" for children, to help develop spacial awareness and imagination. They used Froedel Blocks as kids.

Some firms are attempting to address the issue.

Consumer goods giant Unilever and furniture retailer Ikea Group together with the Lego Foundation are launching The Real Play Coalition this week, aimed at raising awareness about the importance of play

"I'm very optimistic about what it can achieve," says Mr Goodwin as he hands me his business card: a Lego mini figure look-a-like that carry his contact details.

It might be a gimmick, but it's still a lot more fun than the usual white card.

He also admits to carrying a handful of Lego bricks in his pockets - it seems Mr Goodwin very much practises what he preaches.

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