Children’s psychologist reveals there may be developmental benefits for children stuck in the house

  • Expert Psychologist, Dr Shona Goodall, says quarantine needn’t slow children’s development
  • Encouraging free play and creativity can develop learning and independence amongst children
  • Children can develop coordination, emotional learning and social connection from interacting with their families using everyday household objects, such as cardboard boxes
  • Simple solutions and a stress-free environment are the best ways to keep kids on the right path during a time of uncertainty

We can all agree that parents and carers have had a challenging couple of weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic has moved the classroom, and the office, into our homes.

As many people worry about the impact that home schooling will have on their child’s development, leading Clinical Psychologist Dr Shona Goodall, reveals that, actually, this environment can be utilised to boost social growth and emotional well-being, foundational for academic progress.

In collaboration with sustainable packaging campaign, Beyond the Box, Dr Shona Goodall uncovers that something as simple as a child’s fascination with a cardboard box, can set the hallmark for how to encourage creativity.

From harnessing imagination to encouraging independence to fostering a sense of achievement from an early age, Dr Goodall reveals five ways that children may benefit from staying at home:

1. Unstructured leisure

Whilst adults are encouraged to maintain a structured routine during quarantine, evidence suggests that unstructured playtime is important for a child’s development of autonomy.

Goodall says, “Juggling home schooling and work responsibilities can be stressful, leaving parents feeling guilty if they leave their child to play unattended during breaks or after 3pm.

“Depending on the child’s age, why not use this period to foster play through a mix of activities where they can exercise their autonomy. This will encourage a sense of achievement and feelings of mastery, which promotes independent thought and improves their focus and problem-solving capabilities. This in turn allows parents to concentrate on work and life admin in the meantime.

“A study by Pridham et al (2000) suggests that caregivers who encourage children to partake in unstructured leisure play by showing an initial interest in the activity an infant is already doing (joint attention), the more focused and creative they became. This process encourages the infant to explore, thus improving the quality of play. Over time this helps children build the brain structure needed to focus and explore their ideas, fostering children to play independently and allowing parents to be able to let go of the reins for a while.”

2. Staying prepared

Although nobody could have prepared for the impact that coronavirus has had on our daily lives, good preparation for your child is key in providing a zone for fun activities.

Goodall says, “Create a space where you don’t mind any mess and put out items within your child’s ability range, including a glue stick, pencils, crayons and a range of different sizes and shapes of materials like cardboard and encourage them to get creative! By offering affordable and sustainable play materials that parents have no vested interest in – such as cardboard – children are able to play more freely without stress, which helps the brain to grow and develop. Once a child feels they have achieved small tasks successfully, it gives them the confidence to keep trying bigger tasks for longer.

3. Encouraging imagination and creativity

Although children will be able to fill their time with an iPad or smartphone, an alternative option of an empty cardboard box has many positive benefits and provides a blank canvas for creativity during playtime.

According to Goodall, “Cardboard packaging is an extremely useful material, not only is it recyclable, it’s also lightweight, yet relatively strong, and can be decorated easily with colours and textures”. Goodall adds, “Being able to see one object, such as cardboard, having several purposes or functions, helps children use their imagination and develop flexibility in their thinking. Leftover cardboard can be used to make dens and forts for a younger child or even fun design projects for older ones. This imaginative thinking encourages creativity from your child. By encouraging them to come up with their own ideas and flexibility of thought, it helps children develop a way of seeing the world from multiple perspectives. This is good news for cognitive, emotional and social abilities.

“A study by Dauch et al (2018) revealed that an abundance of toys reduces the quality of play. Exploring fewer toys enhances the time spent playing, exploring and developing bilateral and fine motor coordination, which is vital for healthy social and emotional growth. If we combine this with the fact that more basic ‘toys’ like cardboard encourages creativity and ideas, the time spent at home is definitely time not wasted.”

4. Taking the pressure off

Many adults fear that they are not offering enough educational activities or stimulation during lockdown.

Goodall states, “It is important to keep tasks simple, allowing time and space for your child to do things at their own pace. By staying calm, it is likely that you and your child will have more fun, and ultimately, laugh. This will increase oxytocin levels in the body which can not only boost our immune system but also ensure your child stays relaxed and stress free. The end result? A child who is more easily engaged and able to take on board information when it’s time to study.”

5. Boost new behaviours

When the arts and crafts box is exhausted and so are you, it’s the perfect opportunity to discuss the materials that your child has been playing with throughout the day.

According to Goodall, “during play you can try asking open-ended questions that do not have a right or wrong answer and be curious with them about experimenting with different materials, such as cardboard. You could try simply folding it several times, demonstrating to children how it becomes stronger and harder to rip with each fold and noticing what that feels like. In this way you can slide in some educational learning too”

By playing with materials such as cardboard, this provides a great opportunity to instigate and positively praise behaviour such as recycling. “Let your child see you acting as you’d like them to behave – they’ll pick up on your actions and want to replicate them”.

So, try not to stress when it comes to keeping your child entertained during lockdown – you may just need to think inside the box for once.

-Ends –

Notes to Editors

About Beyond the Box

Bringing together experts from leading UK packaging companies, Beyond the Box, launched by the Confederation of Paper Industries, helps Britons learn more about the nation’s sustainable packaging choice: Cardboard.

For more information, including spokesperson requests, please contact Sophie Menzies at Richmond & Towers Communications:

Sophie@rtc.london / 07747842021