New research from LEGO New Zealand has highlighted the potential of play in fostering connection and understanding among children of varied backgrounds.
LEGO New Zealand commissioned the ‘Building Bridges’ report to recognise the impact of play in helping children develop skills for learning about people that don’t “look like them”. The findings reveal that while most Kiwi parents believe it is important for their child to be able to meet and learn about children of differing experiences, there is an uncertainty in how to facilitate these opportunities.
With the festive season serving as a reminder of the vast diversity in the country, LEGO New Zealand sought out to showcase the potential of play in connecting families.
According to the Building Bridges report, three in five parents believe socialisation with children of differing backgrounds, cultures or abilities to be the most effective way to increase their child’s understanding of children different to themselves. However, nearly one in three parents admit their child has a lack of exposure to those who are different to them, or are unsure how to facilitate these connections for their children.
The Building Bridges report paints a powerful picture of the impact play has on a child’s development. Ninety-four percent of parents, grandparents and carers surveyed believe play is important in developing social skills.
From that 94 percent, respondents shared heartwarming examples of how their children have learned empathy for others through play with children from different backgrounds. From reminding their parents to exclude pork products for their Islamic friends, to gaining empathy for friends with dyslexia while they read at their own pace without interrupting, to learning why their friend wears a hijab and what that means to them, children have shown curiosity and empathy towards their peers who may be seen as ‘different’ to them.
To deepen the understanding of these findings, LEGO New Zealand conducted the Social Play Experiment – a social experiment designed to examine how children’s interactions can influence their understanding of others. Led by child psychology expert Dr Penny Van Bergen, the experiment brought together children who had not met, and were of varied backgrounds across cultures, abilities and ages. The experiment looked to compare groups of children across two different rooms – one was devoid of play or stimulation, the other was an environment filled with toys and joyous scenes.
The results were clear: play unites. When in the blank room, the children were awkward and shy, avoiding interaction, sitting in uncomfortable silence, and visibly unsure how to interact with the others around them. When introduced to the play-rich environment, their behaviours transformed. The children introduced themselves to one another for the first time, collaborated on building projects, and came alive over their shared passion for creative expression.
To provide a local perspective, New Zealand-based Child Psychologist Dr. Emma Woodward said creative play is hugely important to child development.
“It enables our children to explore the boundaries of the possible, which in turn inspires hope, joy and potential. It provides a space where children can make the rules and build their sense of agency. Playing together with other children gives a focal point to build on important life skills such as compromise, sharing their ideas, listening to others, seeing another perspective, frustration tolerance, and collaboration – all of these are imperative skills for our children to thrive in an ever-increasing online world,” said Woodward.
“Imaginative and creative play transcends cultural boundaries and allows us to explore that which we have in common more than that which separates us. A shared place for imagination and joy, a place for our ideas rather than society’s ideas about who we are.”
The findings were supported by data from the Building Bridges report, which found that most parents identified creative play as the most effective form of play to improve the understanding of children with different cultural backgrounds or abilities.
Troy Taylor, Vice President and General Manager of LEGO Australia and New Zealand, said this Christmas is about encouraging kids to use the power of play to bring the magic of the festive season to life as one.
“Children across the country will each experience Christmas uniquely, and our findings show that creative play can be a tool to transform an ordinary interaction into one of extraordinary meaning and value. At the LEGO Group, we believe we have a role to champion play for everybody – no matter their age, background or ability. We hope to empower parents and carers to be advocates for play and the value it can bring to their child’s lives.”