'Children have to get back free time and play on the street'

Children's health and time. The pediatrician Herminia Villena points out ways to establish a good relationship between leisure time, rest and children's health.

Non-conciliation of work and school hours; the loss of safe and friendly spaces for outdoor play; the abduction of the time generated by the screens and the lack of communication between adults and children lead to societies that have transformed the uses of leisure and rest during childhood.

Pediatrician Herminia Villena promotes that unplug the toys and defend the recovery of the creativity of the collective game in the street.

Do children have free time?
Before the age of 5 they stop having. Homework and extracurricular activities are time consuming. Like parents, children do not have free time, they live a busy day. Free time is not looking at a screen. Unless we look at it in company and interact with others, it is not a shared activity, and this isolates it. Not to mention the kind of harmful content now being programmed on television. It’s wasted spare time.

“Please, we break with the idea of ​​taking advantage of after-school education to leave the children ‘placed’ for a while.”

What are they dedicated to?
Children play little on the street. They do not read. Only half play with non-electronic toys, I’m alarmed. Sports activities are not considered a game, in the case of children 3 or 4 years old. Some sports disciplines are focused on competitiveness from a young age. While it is true that some sports schools foster values ​​such as solidarity, it is sometimes parents who introduce peer competitiveness. If we want to do physical activity, we take to the park to play! There is a whole range of extracurriculars beyond sports, English and revision: we think of the diversity of artistic activities, music, painting, ceramics, … Suitable to relax the mind and body.
And please break with the idea of ​​taking advantage of extra-curriculars to leave the kids “placed” for a while.

“Battery-powered games do not develop the imagination.”

Where are the games and the imagination?
We are in a paradigm shift in the game. From pediatrics, some of us are worried and would like to filter out the abusive use of new technologies in children’s free time. Today it seems that they do not know how to entertain if the games do not have batteries or are plugged in. The stack does not develop the imagination. You have to stimulate them. With wooden toys or boxes, with simple things, it feeds creativity.

Do they play more in enclosed spaces has to do with the unfriendly urban design of parks and squares, road safety, …? Or are those not key factors?
It is true that there is no collective play on the street, with other children and with the family. Parents are tired or don’t know how to play. Children living in villages have the privilege of being more secure in public spaces. There is more confidence in letting them run without suffering. The town-planning of the city councils puts little green in the parks and squares; they are not nice with so much asphalt.

On the one hand, there is the cultural factor. According to the family culture, she is more inclined to take the little ones to play in the afternoon in the squares. And on the other hand, the time factor. What little is left for adults to feel like playing, at home or on the street, when they fold from work. We find single-parent or single-parent families with little free time because they have more than one job because they have multiple jobs; for example. And we find boys and girls from families with high purchasing power that are the least playing on the street.

Esplugues de Llobregat participates in the URBACT project of Playful Paradigm, a European network that stimulates traditional street games.

There are municipal regulations that sanction play ball in some places.
We have reached this absurdity because there is a neighborhood that complains about everything: music bothers you, that children play ball in the squares, screams, etc. Society is becoming very intolerant. It is only headed towards dormitory cities, which stops “making noise” when the blinds of the shops close. We are losing life on the street.

Do you rest properly between so many screens, children?
The screens decrease the quality of sleep. Fathers and mothers do not have the willpower or the security of setting limits on children’s schedules. A few hours must be respected for school, some for free time, alone and in company, and some for aldescans. Today we know that lack of rest is linked to obesity or memory loss. Sedentary attitude does not favor a restful sleep. From childhood you must create habits to go to sleep: telling stories or reading goes well to prepare and accompany the rest.

How can we give quality of life to children’s free time? What measures do you recommend?
Throughout the day we can get children to play, from creativity, even half an hour. We must promote the game on the street, it is the work of families and municipalities. We feed sociability. Make theater with the jogines, take out the batteries, tell stories, etc. You also have to be alert in the sexist division of the game and the space according to gender, especially in the courtyards, where you are overly concerned with games like football.
We leave the mobile in band when we are with children present. In the subway, the image of a father or mother looking at the cell phone and the child together looking at infinity is very sad. It is easy to interact with the child on public transport: we play «see see».
We recover meals with the family, with the TV turned off. It must be a community space for conversation and equal distribution of tasks. Of course, if there is no time compatibility between work and school hours, little will change the situation.


Barcelona City Council, with the support of the Institute for Children and Adolescents, and through a transversal and participatory process involving more than 400 people, has drawn up the Game Plan in the public space of Barcelona with a horizon 2030. This Game Plan provides for the recovery of public space as a play area, the establishment of priority use in certain squares and streets, the transformation of playgrounds with diversification of game proposals, co-education and naturalization, co-creation with young people from new urban sports parks, or the introduction of water and sand as a leisure resource, among other proposals.