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Recognising and respecting the right of all children to play
Dr Madeleine Dobson, School of Education, Curtin University
The significance of play deserves recognition and respect by all stakeholders in children’s lives. Play is recognised as a right of all children in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Research that speaks to the benefits of play is long-existing, extensive, and decisive. Play is integral to children’s development across domains (e.g. Gordon, 2014) and influences key areas such as children’s psychological wellbeing (e.g. Chang, Qian & Yarnal, 2013), resilience and social competence (e.g. Casey, Stagnitti, Taket & Nolan, 2012) , imaginative and creative thinking (e.g. Sansanwal, 2014), and problem-solving (e.g. Solis, Curtis & Hayes-Messinger, 2017).
And yet, there are persistent and pernicious barriers for educators, children, families and communities to confront. An erosion of play is noted across media, curriculum, and ideology (Lewis, 2017). In some schools, play has become taboo and educators are pressured to favour more ‘academic’ types of learning and teaching – this, of course, ignores the reality that play and learning are closely linked and often indistinguishable (Pendlebury, 2016). Outdoor play has become extremely limited (Bento & Dias, 2017), and further to that, not all families and communities have access to the kind of spaces where play is welcomed and encouraged. Play is often misconceptualised as belonging solely to the early years, when in fact, older children are just as deserving of opportunities to engage in play and playful ways of learning.
In my role as Lecturer and Course Coordinator of Early Childhood at Curtin University’s School of Education, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work closely with pre-service teachers and new graduates who are well-versed in the importance of play and who are ambitious and innovative in their implementation of play-based learning methods. Last year, I led Curtin University’s School of Education creation and dissemination of a position statement on play. This statement acknowledges the centrality and multidimensionality of play in children’s lives, and calls for adults to advocate for and contribute to children’s play. There are many ways in which this can be accomplished.
In schools, educators can pursue play-based and inquiry learning methods where children are engaged with agency – Journeys of Inquiry offers comprehensive guidance and insightful case-studies about how the realisation of this method across Western Australian independent schools. Green school grounds are also a valuable pursuit – naturalising school environments through gardens, nature-based play spaces, and connections to nearby bushland or woodland can support children’s wellbeing and create opportunities for discovery, creativity, and collaboration (Chawla, Keena, Pevec & Stanley, 2014).
Parents and carers can create and seek out opportunities for play at home and in local community contexts – their investment in playful interactions are thoroughly advantageous for their children and their child-parent/carer relationship (Ginsburg, 2007). At a broader community level, we should be investing in child-friendly cities and play spaces that embrace the ‘Seven Cs’: character, context, connectivity, change, chance, clarity, and challenge. For researchers, there is work yet to be done – as children’s ways of living, learning, and playing continue to evolve, further research is not only possible but imperative.
Lastly, ongoing advocacy in this space is critical. Not only is play a right of all children, it is a meaningful and formative part of their lives. As we continue pushing for greater recognition and respect for play and its place in our educational contexts and communities, it is vital that our advocacy involve children. The perspectives and experiences of children are of great value in this space and can take us beyond adult understandings (Nicholson, Shimpi, Kurnik, Carducci & Jevgjovikj, 2014). Play is worth fighting for – as we keep fighting for it, we ought to do so in partnership with children, who are the very people most involved and affected.
Bento, G. & Dias, G. (2017). The importance of outdoor play for young children’s healthy development. Porto Biomedical Journal, 2 (5), 157-160. doi:10.1016/j.pbj.2017.03.003
Casey, S.A., Stagnitti, K., Taket, A. & Nolan, A. (2012). Early peer play interactions of resilient children living in disadvantaged communities. International Journal of Play, 1 (3), 311-323. doi:10.1080/21594937.2012.741432
Chang, P., Qian, X. & Yarnal, C. (2013). Using playfulness to cope with psychological stress: taking into account both positive and negative emotions. International Journal of Play, 2 (3), 273-296. doi:10.1080/21594937.2013.855414
Chawla, L., Keena, K., Pevec, I. & Stanley, E. (2014). Green schoolyards as havens from stress and resources for resilience in childhood and adolescence. Health & Place, 28, 1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2014.03.001
Duncan, R. (2018). Journeys of inquiry. Osborne Park, WA: AISWA.
Ginsburg, K.R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent–child bonds. Pediatrics, 119 (1), doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-2697
Gordon, G. (2014). Well played: The origins and future of playfulness. American Journal of Play, 6 (2), 234-266.
Herrington, S., Lesmeister, C., Nicholls, J. & Stefiuk, K. (2007). 7Cs: An informational guide to young children’s outdoor play spaces. Retrieved from https://sala.ubc.ca/sites/sala.ubc.ca/files/documents/7Cs.pdf
Laker, L. (2018). What would the ultimate child-friendly city look like? The Guardian. Retrieved from
Lewis, P.J. (2017). The erosion of play. International Journal of Play, 1, 10-23. doi:10.1080/21594937.2017.1288391
Nicholson, J., Shimpi, P.M., Kurnik, J., Carducci, C. & Jevgjovikj, M. (2014). Listening to children’s perspectives on play across the lifespan: children’s right to inform adults’ discussions of contemporary play. International Journal of Play, 3 (2), 136-156. doi:10.1080/21594937.2014.937963
Pendlebury, K. (2016). Mental recreation in Wonderland. American Journal of Play, 9 (1), 41-55.
Sansanwal, S. (2014). Pretend play enhances creativity and imagination. Journal of Arts and Humanities, 3 (1), 70-83.
Solis, S.L., Curtis, K.N. & Hayes-Messinger, A. (2017). Children’s exploration of physical phenomena during object play. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 31 (1), 122-140. doi: 10.1080/02568543.2016.1244583
UN General Assembly. (1989). Convention on the rights of the child. https://www.unicef.org/crc/