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UAE children don’t play enough

A new survey conducted among GCC countries throws light on how woefully lacking children are of playtime in this region

  • Aamnah HussainImage Credit:
  • Silvio LiedtkeImage Credit:
Gulf News

In the mounting pressures from society, peers, school, homework and study time, is your child getting optimum leisure hours to play?

No, this is not an indulgent question. The role of play in constructive imagination and augmentation of creativity cannot be overemphasised. A child needs several hours in his day where he can indulge in physical games, television, digital media and imaginative role-playing, all of which help build his motor sensory skills, emotional and spatial intelligence and constructive imagination. An optimum balance between work and play is crucial for the balanced upbringing of your child.

Fun City, the leading leisure and family entertainment leaders, came up with their second Child’s Play Index (CPI) that gives a detailed account of the amount of play time your child should ideally get. The CPI for 2013 sheds light on the amount of time children between the ages of 2-12 years spend on play as well as insights pertaining to their playing patterns.

The index defines the share of playing time among other daily activities excluding the time children spend at school. It is a calculation of their ‘free time’ that is dedicated to play. The research aims to raise awareness for the need of a well-balanced developmental approach for children with a combination of indoor and outdoor play activities.

The CPI is based on a survey conducted in September 2013 among 1,000 family respondents from different nationalities with children in the age group of 2-12 years living in the UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar. The sample consisted of 35 per cent of children in the 2-5 age group, 35 per cent in the age group of 6-8 years and 30 per cent between the ages of 9-12 years.

The index assesses fundamental play activities in a child’s regular day such as the total amount of their days’ free time spent in playing activities, the split of indoor vs outdoor play, active vs passive play, popular playing activities and exposure to technology.


How CPI works

Fun City engaged TNS Research Agency to interview 1,000 parents across all nationalities including Emiratis, Qataris, Bahrainis, Omanis, Expat Arabs, Asians and Westerners residing in the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar to understand the playing patterns of children. The results were compiled in the Fun City Children’s Play Index for 2013.

Respondents were asked to provide answers to more than 20 questions in a detailed face- to-face interview in order to understand their child/children’s daily life and the time divide between scholastic and recreational activities.

The index has been improved this year by measuring the time spent on each activity, which is aimed to provide greater accuracy, and the scale reduced to 100 from 200, making it easier to comprehend.

The index defines the share of playing time among other daily activities, excluding the time children spend at school. The responses depict the actual lifestyle of the respondents’ children and how much of their ‘free time’ is dedicated to play. This was then indexed for each individual to get an overall score.


The Play Index Calculator

An exciting innovation and addition to this year’s index is the launch of the Fun City Play Index Calculator, which allows every parent in the region to calculate their child’s play time. Parents can log on to and fill in details of their child’s activities on a regular day from the time they wake up till they go off to bed. The tool will then show results along with interpretations and suggestions from Fun City’s parenting expert, Aamnah Hussain.

Commenting on the impact and application of the findings of this study, Hussain said: “The Play Index provides valuable information and insight into children’s use of time and in particular, their play habits. The results of this annual assessment can benefit parents, educators, policy makers, healthcare officials and anyone interested in the well-being of our children, as it describes the current involvement of children in the region with different activities and provides some healthy guidelines. It postulates an opportunity for you to assess your own child’s play habits, note imbalances and intervene in a way that supports the full social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of your child.”

Education spoke to Silvio Liedtke, Chief Operating Officer, Landmark Leisure, on the purpose and findings of the survey.


What is the importance of play in the life of a child?

A lot of research has been carried on this major phenomenon of the 21st century and it is true that adults do not know how to play anymore with their offspring. Throughout mankind’s history, play was the mediumfor humans to interact with each other. It is the fundamental building block of our social, emotive and psychological behaviour in a community and is crucial to our existence. I believe that if play is lost, we lose the essence of being human.


Why did you feel the need to create a play index?

The play index has been created by TNS research in consultation with a child psychologist. The need was two-fold. We had to understand the child’s play behaviour and as market leaders in indoor entertainment, we wanted to act responsibly and raise awareness about this issue.

One of the most important things we want is for parents to be stimulated and think about giving their child a balanced upbringing.


What were the highlights of the survey?

The survey revealed interesting results – that children watch twice as much television than they play outdoors. Children play with digital devices five times more than they should as compared to their outdoor games. Physical activities are very important. The play index is just a way for parents to know how well is their child spending his or her leisure time. We recommend a balance. One should have a 1:1 relationship between indoor and outdoor activities to get optimum benefit of play time. One of the most shocking time allocations was that children spent only 0.5 per cent of their time reading. This is alarming as reading is an important activity. Parents must read a book to their child as reading promotes imagination.

A significant number of parents give digital devices to their child to distract them. My children do not go to bed unless I read to them. Parents’ behaviour is absolutely fundamental to a child’s upbringing as children imitate their parents.


What is the significance of role playing in the development of a child?

Role playing is another important aspect. Every child has a secret aspiration and becomes the person he imagines – a mother, a doctor, a pilot, a fire fighter, while play-acting. Without role playing, a child cannot tap into his creativity and come to realise his full potential.


Fact Box

Key Research findings

Some of the key research findings are:

1. The individual Play index scores for each country is as below

a. UAE : 21 (It has stayed consistent from last year)

b. Qatar : 33

c. Oman: 21

d. Bahrain: 26

The above implies that the play related activities are the highest among children residing in Qatar followed by Bahrain compared to UAE and Oman.

2. A child’s conventional toys box comprises of an average of 7 toys. In addition to this, every child has 4.3 digital devices in their toy box. (Tablet, Laptop, PSP, PC, PlayStation, Xbox, Ninentdo or Wii). Nine out of ten children have at least one of these personal gaming devices. The Tablet is the most popular personal gaming device for the child.

As a result, almost 21% of a child’s time is spent indoors at home on a personal gaming device and/or television.


3. Close to 40% of the children prefer spending time on games played on personal devices. This preference is highest in Qatar at 50% and the lowest in Oman at 29%. In the age group of 9-12 years, this preference increases to 50%. This also infers the dependence on these games by 70% parents in an endeavor to keep their children entertained. 30% of parents are not aware of the games played by their children on these devices.


4. The incidence of playing games on personal digital devices is as high at 9.1% among children in the age group of 9-12 years whereas the creative play activities reduces to 1.9% amongst the children from the same ages.


5. Only 7% of a child’s time is spent on outdoor play. The preference towards Sports is also quite low among children in these countries averaging at 11% for the four countries. Out of this time, children allocate only about 4.3% of their day’s free time playing sports related activities and a mere 2.6% time is spent on creative activities like art, music, dance, etc.


6. In terms of Parental engagement with the child, the incidence of fathers playing with their child is 7% whereas the mother tends to spend almost 27% of her time thereby maintaining the main role in her child’s development. The ratio of both parents spending time with their child stands at 15%. Lastly, 40% of the mothers also believe that father is involved in their child growth at all stages.


7. Children spend almost 21% of their time playing alone on an average.



Some behavioural insights of the study are:

• The average time spent playing by children stands at an Index score of 25 in all four countries combined together.

• 4 out of 5 children from 6-12 years of age wake up before or at 6.00am on a weekday

• In UAE, children spend more time at school

• On an average, children are awake for 13.5 hours on weekdays and 10.5 hours in weekends.

• Play activities increase during the weekends when children have more time on hand due to the absence of a routine based schedule

• The younger age groups spend relatively more time playing as compared to the older children The older the child grows, he/she has lesser time on hand for play activities

• Asian children spend less time playing compared to those of Arab and Western expats.