Places for People - Assessing user needs - Children's play needs in housing areas

© Anne R. Beer, 1997

What is play?


It is easier to consider the function of play than to describe exactly what it is.

Adults normally equate 'play' with 'recreation', but this is a very limited definition of the role of play in the life of the child.

Whilst recreation has a part to play, it is only a small part.



Through play children:

learn to manipulate objects and situations


develop their bodies physically and develop intellectually


are provided with an emotional outlet and a framework within
which to acquire social skills and learn to live as
part of a group


gain a sense of satisfaction and achievement. To learn the
pleasure of doing something skillfully or making something
work is an essential part of satisfactory physical,
intellectual and emotional development of the child.


In the psychological literature there are many theories about play. However, few authors have produced their findings in a form of direct relevance to the way planners and designers must work. They rarely have the time to make an in-depth study of the literature. Here some basic ideas about the purpose of play are introduced, based o
n research findings. It is hoped that this information can be a guide to decision making.

The following notes can only summarise some of the findings.
You are advised to supplement your understanding by further reading.

What is play?

Play is an activity which is by and large non-instrumental in character.


On a social level, play is a relatively self-contained activity.


Play is essentially a non-productive activity.


Play is something that happens at frequent intervals in the child's
life but without fixed patterns.


The child needs the opportunity to be able to play everywhere and at all times.


To summarise, play is just one aspect of a child's life and behaviour.


It is, however, an aspect that cannot develop in a hostile environment, as external tensions inhibit play.


To be able to play satisfactorily, the child has to be free of outside urban dangers.


Why plan for play

Standards of play provision

What is play?

Designing for play in housing areas

Where the child plays

Facilities to support play


Involving the users



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Text and illustrations (unless stated otherwise) © Anne R. Beer, Map21 Ltd, 2001, all rights reserved. Terms of use: Any involved in education or training may copy the contents of these web pages with the proviso that they always make reference to the origial copyright.

© Anne Beer, 2000
Web pages by
Map21 Ltd

Latest update 19 Dec 2003