Story | 05/01/2023 05:00:00 | 7 min Read time

Fun facts: Playful Den’s Emma Worrollo on how print magazines are playing a crucial role in children’s development

Whether it’s the avalanche of cartoons on streaming services, colourful tablets made for kids or the latest cutting-edge video games, youngsters are glued to screens more than ever before. That, however, doesn’t mean analogue forms of entertainment like children’s magazines have become obsolete. Quite the contrary. Experts believe getting a child to page through a print magazine has never been more important to their development.

“While the digital world allows children to curate their entertainment to their taste and gives them tools to create, the need for tactility and slower media is still hugely valuable - arguably even more so,” says Emma Worrollo, founder of Playful Den, an ideas collective made up of psychologists, researchers, content creators, innovators and writers that consults businesses on how to harness the power of play.

“Research shows when we read something from a printed media, we remember it more. In other words, when we turn pages and read, we take more in and store it better.

“Magazines offer an opportunity for spontaneous discovery of information in an easy-to-digest style which suits kids’ busy and on-the-go lifestyles and also appeals to reluctant readers who might find a whole book intimidating.”

Catering to the kids

As parents have become increasingly aware of the benefits of print magazines, the media world’s been taking notice. Over the last few months three print publications aimed at youngsters have hit the shelves.

January saw the arrival of National Geographic Little Kids, published by National Geographic and The Walt Disney Company, and licensed to Creature Media. Aimed at ages 3-6 and published 13 times a year, the magazine is full of activities, puzzles, photos and facts about wildlife and nature.

“For pre-schoolers to touch a magazine is completely vital,” says editor Georgia Harrison. “Younger kids will be reading it with their parents, and it involves sitting together, turning the pages together. The pages are interactive – there are some colour-in pages, there are some mazes and sticker activity so it’s something they can engage with, it’s not just a case of looking at a screen.

“A lot of parents do worry about the amount of screen time that their kids have, and Little Kids provides an entertaining way for them to interact with their child. The activities are conversation starters and encourage discussions. And we also suggest physical activities and observation games to take the fun beyond the pages.”

In March, Immediate Media Co, the special interest content and platform company, launched new Disney magazine, Encanto - a spin-off of the popular animated film about the magical Madrigal family who live hidden the mountains of Colombia.

The publication is crammed with “uplifting activities” that focus on the differences, diversity and special gifts of the movie characters and help little ones on their own voyage of self-discovery and the realisation that everyone is magical in their own unique way. 

 “Encanto has been a major hit on the streaming platform Disney+ and we’re thrilled to be bringing the magic to children’s physical world with brand-new Encanto magazine,” says Rachel Clare, Immediate Media’s Youth & Children’s Publisher. “We have an exciting line-up of issues and gifts with plenty of games, puzzles, music and magic along the way.” 

Meanwhile, Puzzler Media in March replaced its kids’ puzzle magazine Quiz Kids with a new title, Puzzler KIDS Collection. Brought out in a comic-sized format, the magazine anchors puzzles - including Sudoku, Crosswords and Spot the Difference - around topics that kids can really engage with.

Learning through play

A common denominator in all the magazines is that they find creative ways to help children learn through play – something that’s crucial for their development.

“Play is how we humans are wired to learn,” says Worrollo. “In play our minds are open - this is called plasticity and it’s when the magic happens. We take in more, recall more and explore more possibilities when we play. Children do this without being told to because it’s essential for learning with how to survive in the adult world. 

“And reading is one form of imagination play. When we read, our mind can’t help but conjure up images and feelings about the messages it’s picking up from the words on the pages.

“This process happens very effortlessly once a person can read and is enjoying the content. Stories are how children and adults make sense of the world, they are a core part of being human and how we’ve always expressed our most inner dreams and fears. The imagination is given stimulus through reading to play with this and connect deeply with the story.”

When it comes to print, Playful Den puts its money where its mouth is, bringing out its own Christmas magazine to help parents make an informed decision when buying presents for their kids.

“A lot of products for children are still designed and retailed in a way that prioritises age and gender,” says Worrollo. “Whilst these factors may have some influence, I don’t believe these are the key factors that should shape the types of play stimulus we bring into our children’s lives.

“I created the Playful Den Zine to help parents learn how to observe their child’s play personality and consider this as the key driver for shopping. It’s my belief this cuts down on waste and non-sustainable shopping because the items are more likely to bring more play value and not throwaway trends.”

Heading into a fun future

With the world an increasingly scary place, making time for play is more vital than ever, irrespective of your age.

“As adults we tend to be linear in our thinking around play, assuming it is reserved for ‘appropriate times’ like leisure, downtime, holidays or breaks, and also associating it with frivolity and silliness,” says Worrollo.

“This can be a barrier to utilising its magic because darker times are usually when we need it most. To play is to be human and this is especially important when we feel a sense of dread and doom to reconnect us with who we are.

“For children play is also an essential outlet for processing the world around them, they bring darkness into the light of play to make sense of what’s happening and work through it and this is hugely valuable.” 

And it’s not just at home where play is invaluable. Weaving some fun time into your business plan can improve your operations – from courses on playful parenting for employees working from home, to making interactions as a team more fun. Publishers and other brands can also use play to reach parents and children more effectively through fun interactions with consumers.

“I collaborate with brands to help them create playful experiences and put more play into the world,” says Worrollo, who counts Lego, Netflix and Nike amongst her consultancy clients. “It is currently quite an unfun world to grow up in and brands have a lot of power to create inclusive experiences which allow everyone to step into play, use their imagination, spark creativity and get curious.

“I like to consider myself a loyal voice of childlike wonder behind the scenes influencing how to make this happen in a way that’s relevant and exciting to today’s parents and kids.”

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