When the nostalgic among us gaze back through the years, they are often wistful about a time where they had less to worry about.

They’ll recall time spent – mostly outside – simply playing with friends and suggest today’s youth is missing out.

Now a study has shown that one in three children in Northern Ireland do not have a safe place to play, and it is impacting both their happiness and their physical and emotional development.

Much of our early-years curriculum is geared towards play and for good reason; it’s fun and the children are learning as they go along. A total of 90% of respondents to a Playboard NI survey described play time as important, while 84% said it made them happy and around half felt it was important for making friends.

Worryingly, more than a quarter (27%) said increased traffic had prevented them from playing in their local area.

Not only are children not able to find time to play, they are struggling to find somewhere to actually do it when they get the time.

Almost a third (31%) felt there was a need for safer spaces in which to play. Young people have been hit hard over the last five years; the Covid-19 pandemic and its restrictions have had a huge effect on their formative years, both those who were very young and also those entering their teenage years.

That unstructured, carefree environment the older generation pine over was taken from them when the virus arrived and only accelerated the trend of “busier” children.

There are so many structured activities for children growing up now that it is no surprise they cannot find time for unstructured play.

When they do, that play is curtailed by space, by increased traffic making existing play spaces too dangerous.

Playboard NI is to address the Assembly on today’s first International Day of Play, which carries a message for governments to prioritise opportunities to play.

Chief executive Alan Herron has called on Stormont to develop a dedicated Play Strategy to deliver improvements for our children.

With studies showing children’s mental health has been deteriorating in recent years, the need to find activities that can improve their happiness has only grown.

There are simple, easy-to-implement and cost-effective measures that can be taken and creating more opportunities and spaces for play is at the top of the list.