Dear politicians, playing children bring communities together – but they need you to protect their space

9 Apr

Over 100 playworkers and play advocates have united to refute the UKIP claim that immigration stops children playing out together, and to highlight the real reasons for the decline in outdoor play.

This is a copy our letter, which is being sent to 3000 election candidates today, calling for government support for community play.

Play advocates are encouraged to adapt it with examples and quotes from families to use in local campaigns*

*Please remove signatories if the letter is altered in any way.
Children, allegedly not playing together because of their different backgrounds,                                                     send a message to UKIP

Children, allegedly not playing together because of their different backgrounds, send a message to UKIP

Dear Candidate,

Following the recent assertion, from Nigel Farage of UKIP, that immigration divides communities to the extent that children can no longer play outside together, we would like to assure you that in our experience of supporting community play over many years, this is not true.

We would, however, like to highlight evidence of the real barriers to outdoor play.

Play is in some ways a delicate thing, largely unnoticed by the adult world. Yet when children are free to play, they thrive. There is plenty of evidence that playing is vital to their development, essential to good mental health and physical activity. It is how children discover their identity and their passions. Most importantly, playing is how they most enjoy being alive.

Children play regardless of their differences, and the friendships they form through play make up the social fabric that strengthens families – and whole communities. Over a number of years there has been a great deal of research into the barriers that children face to their natural desire to play with their friends in the public spaces near their homes.

The number one offender is invariably traffic, followed by parental anxiety about ‘stranger danger’.

Research (by Ipsos MORI, NOP and a range of academic institutions) over a number of years has shown that other reasons for children not playing out as much as they and their parents would like, are anxieties about bullying, too much rubbish, poorly maintained or boring playgrounds and a lack of trusted adult oversight. In recent years, fear of accusations of bad parenting has also been cited as a reason for keeping children inside. Pressure on both children’s and adults’ time – from school and work respectively – is another.

These barriers have become so great that some studies estimate that today’s children have less than 10 per cent of the space for free play, compared to only 30-40 years ago. Strong links have been made between this decline and a range of poor health trends.

None of the evidence that we have looked at suggests that immigration is a significant factor.

On the contrary, children playing outside bring people together and engender strong, cohesive communities. We see children from diverse backgrounds playing together in their local neighbourhoods every day, but to enable and support more children to play outside – the way they have for countless generations all over the world – we need to control traffic, not immigration. Children and their parents need to have confidence in the public spaces where they would play.

They need more road closures, lower speed limits, safe routes to school and play areas, more and better community policing; and funding for playwork and community play projects. In the longer-term, planning decisions and spatial development strategies must consider what children need from the built environment and the wider public realm.

We would like to invite you to meet some of us and to visit the streets, estates and villages where you can see for yourself the power of community play. We would also be more than happy to discuss with you how the new government can support children’s play after the election.

Please pledge today to work with us to improve the spaces where families live; to support community play for the UK’s children – in all their glorious diversity.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Isabelle Allen, Playworker, Sycamore Adventure
Marc Armitage, Independent Playwork Consultant
Roger Barham Fran Barton
Arthur Battram, PleXity
Simon Bazley
Tracey Beasley, Playwork and Early Years Trainer, CWT – Chamber Training
Joan Beattie, EQ Playwork Training and Consultancy
Lucy Benson, Islington Play Association
Steve Boeje, Play Association Hammersmith and Fulham
Jackie Boldon and the Shiremoor Adventure Playground team
Dani Bowman, Community Development Officer, High Wycombe
Karen Benjamin, Training and Development Officer, Playwork Partnerships
Janine Sally Brady
Amanda Brook
Professor Fraser Brown
Donne Buck, New Ark Adventure Playground
Petra Burgess, senior playworker, Bapp
Phill Burton, Dynamix
Imogen Butler-Cole
Rebecca Coley, Birmingham PlayCare Service
Samuel Butler, St. John Ambulance
Theresa Casey, International Play Association (IPA)
Laura Jane Clifton
Lottie Child, Lecturer, the University of the Arts and Forest School Leader
Sue Coates
Issy Cole-Hamilton
Mick Conway, Playday Founder and member of The Wild Network Council
Rachel Cross, Playworker, Bristol
Pete Darlo, Playful human
Elaine Davies, Chief Executive, About Play
Tiu De Haan
Michele Deans
Siobhan Dillon, College Park Residents Association, NW10
Rich Driffield
Anne Dunn
Vicky Edwards, Crawley Play Service
Cinzia Ferella, International Sales Manager, Sutcliffe Play
John Fitzpatrick
Michael Follett
Marvlon Gardener, Nana Marz Childcare
Tim Gill, Independent Researcher
Alison Goguelin
Sarah Goldsmith
Anita Grant, Islington Play Association
Paul Greatorex, Play consultant, Leisure and the Environment
Claire Griffiths, Play Department Manager of AVOW, Play on Plas Madoc
Andy Grout, Playworker
Sylwyn Guilbaud, Playworker
John Hale, Somerstown Adventure Playground, Portsmouth
Bridget Handscomb, Hackney Play Association
Paula Harris
Chris Harwood, Sandwell Adventure Play Association
Donna Hawkins, Playworker, Brighton
Jane Hembrow
Thomas Henchman
Claire Higham
Andy Hinchcliffe, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Paul Hocker, Development Director, London Play
Claire House, Smash Club Manager
Caitlin Howells, Community Artist and Playworker, Norfolk
Abi Ps Hunter
Nick Jackson
Kevin Johnson
Michelle Jones
Haki Kapasi, Inspire
Tony Kendle, The Eden Project
Yanina Koszalinski, Pitsmoor Adventure Playground
Jacky Kilvington
Dr. Pete King
Glynnis Knight-Lee
Leonie Labistour, University of Gloucestershire
Suzanna Law, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Amanda Lawler, Playworker, Funzone Ltd.
Morgan Leichter-Saxby, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Pip Levett, Director of Play, Play Gloucestershire
Pamela Lewis
Christophe Lutard
Alex Madewell
Marianne Mannello, Playworker
Melian Mansfield, Chair, London Play
Chris Martin, Playwork Convenor, Unite the union
Nathan MacGillivray, Play Development Worker
Lisa Matthew, Play Mosaic Ltd.
Dr. Mel McCree
Keeks Mcgarry, Shiremoor Adventure Playground
Ken McKeating, Playwork Manager
Patrick Meleady, Pitsmoor Adventure Playground
Meynell, iP-D!P
Sue Morris, Community Stuff
Chris Morton
Rachel Murray, Playwork Consultant and Forest School Practitioner
Jade Newton-Gardener, IMAP
Eddie Nuttall, Felix Road Adventure Playground
Emma Payne, Birmingham PlayCare Network
Tanya Petherick, Director, Class Of Their Own
Carolyn Port, Chair of Governors, Winterslow Primary School and Founder of Winterslow Youth Zone
Dave Poulton, Playworker
David Spencer Ramsey
Lynda Ray, About Play, Sheffield
Charlie Reaves
Dan Reesjones
Lee-Anne Robinson-Godby
Rachel Rose Reid
Simon Rix, Meriden Adventure Playground Association
Shelly Rossiter, Manager, YMCA, Dorset
Michael Rowan, Parks Consultant, Aucuparia Consultancy
Ruth Russell
Dr. Wendy Russell, University of Gloucestershire
Sue Saunders
Joel Seath, Playworker
Sasha Sencier Persaud-Jagdhar
Lily Slingo, School Play Coordinator, Bristol
Tania Slingo, Parent
Colin Simmons, Trustee, London Play
Panash Shah, Cambridge Kids Club
Hilary Smith, University of Gloucestershire
Kate Smith, Tiverton Adventure Playground
Chris Snell
Ben Tawil
Rachel Temple, Ceda
Sheila Tequila
Caroline Thom
Janine Timoko
Gareth Venn
Michelle Virdi
Adrian Voce OBE
Jessie Voce
Barry Walden, Vice Chair, London Play
Paul Waller, Brighton and Hove Play Service
Laura Walsh, Central YMCA Club
Philip Waters, The Eden Project
Laura Watkins, Woodland Toddlers, Busy Rascals and Pitsmoor Adventure Playground
Margaret Westwood, International Play Association (IPA), Scotland
Raymond Arnold Willis, Play Manager
Niki Willows, Playworker and Trainer, Rounded & Grounded
Ali Wood, Independent Playwork Trainer and Researcher
Will Wpa, Senior Playworker @wpaplay Play Association
Charlie Rebekah Caplan Wilson
Charlie Wilson, Supervisor, Class of Their Own, Brighton
Penny Wilson, Playworker
Tracey Woodward
Mike Wragg, Chair, Eccleshill Adventure Playground
Sandra Wright, Leader, Wild Foxes Forest School
Keyo Yendii

Playwork field calls on parties to adopt policy measures for play

25 Mar

Proposals from the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne show that the playwork sector has lost none of its ambition, or its fight

A special session at the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne earlier this month has produced a clear and ambitious play policy agenda ahead of the General Election. Here is the text of a joint statement from the conference convenors and the steering group for a new vehicle for playwork:

“A General Comment from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2013[1] said that governments have an obligation under international law to ‘recognise, protect and fulfil’ children’s right to play, through appropriate legislation, planning and budgeting.

A recent research review of the impact of children’s play initiatives found that there is good evidence that they ‘lead to improved health outcomes for children, and are also linked to a range of other developmental benefits’ and that these can be shown to be cost-effective.[2]

Yet, in spite of it being a clear responsibility of government and there being good evidence of its immediate and long-term benefits, public play provision has been one of the main casualties of austerity.[3] A ten-year play strategy for England was abandoned after only two years, and the voices of children and those who support their play have been virtually unheard in the debate about the economy and public services.

UK playworkers now call on political parties to recognise the vital importance of time and space to play in children’s lives and of the vital role of playwork in opening up opportunities otherwise denied to many of them.

We urge all parties, relevant government ministers and other agencies to adopt children’s right to play as a central plank of policy for children and to take urgent steps to protect the country’s unique network of staffed play provision, such as adventure playgrounds, by developing a new national play strategy to include: –

  • A statutory play sufficiency duty for all local councils, as is now the case in Wales.
  • Recognising playwork training and qualifications as essential to extended services, after-school, and holiday play provision.
  • Reforming the regulation of extended services and out-of school provision to make playwork practice an essential part of the inspection criteria.
  • Reinstating central funding for infrastructure, professional workforce development and a new national body for playwork.
  • Directing Public Health England to work with local authorities to develop area-wide strategies for free play.
  • Making play policy a core component of a new Cabinet post for children.
  • Addressing the need for equitable terms and conditions for playworkers.
  • Developing a national programme of ‘playable neighbourhoods’, expanding the numbers of adventure playgrounds, play streets, home zones and play ranger schemes and by supporting playwork and community play development projects.
  • Reforming anti-social behaviour law affecting children’s play so that participation and mediation replace criminalisation.

The playwork sector will continue to develop these proposals in consultation with the field, and is committed to working with government and other agencies to realise such measures in the interests of all the UK’s children, their families and communities”.

Drafted from workshop discussions, feedback sessions and prioritising exercises at the National Playwork Conference, Eastbourne, March 2015, facilitated by Ali Wood and Pete Duncan.

The Eastbourne statement can be downloaded as a pdf here: Playwork policy proposals

Notes

[1] UNCRC (2013) General Comment (GC17) on Article 31 of the CRC.

[2] Gill, T. (2014) The Play Return: a review of the wider impact of play initiatives, London: Children’s Play Policy Forum.

[3] An investigation by Children and Young People Now, reported in January 2014 found that local authority spending on play services over the past three years had been reduced by an average of 39 per cent.

National children’s body calls for all political parties to invest in cost-effective support for children’s play

19 Mar

Media release from the Children’s Play Policy Forum:

The UK’s Children’s Play Policy Forum is calling for all UK political parties to invest in children’s play because of the proven benefits to children, families and communities.

‘Four asks for play’ calls on the UK Government to:
Recognise the need for play before school, during play/break times and after school hours

Extend the existing Department of Health-funded programme supporting regular sessional road closures in residential streets in England to every major city in the UK

Invest in a programme focusing on disadvantaged communities to encourage appropriate play in public space, while reducing neighbourhood conflict and the resulting pressure on police time

Provide support for staffed play provision to test innovative community-based health and well-being initiatives.
Investing in the ‘Four asks for play’ will result in improvements in children’s health and wellbeing, the Children’s Play Policy Forum says, and hence a reduction in the pressures on the National Health Service and the public purse.

Studies show that the long-term health benefits of playing include boosting physical activity levels which helps to tackle child obesity, and supporting children to become more resilient. Play initiatives also benefit the wider community by encouraging neighbourliness and improved community cohesion.

Robin Sutcliffe, Chair of the Children’s Play Policy Forum said:

‘We know that playing provides immediate and long-term benefits to children, young people and the wider community. We all have a responsibility to ensure children have opportunities to play in their communities. We are calling on all political parties to provide for play initiatives across the UK – the level of investment needed would be relatively modest yet extremely cost-effective.’

The Forum is a cross-sector grouping of leading organisations with an interest in children’s play. Members include: Play England, PlayBoard Northern Ireland, Play Scotland, Play Wales, Fields in Trust, Association of Play Industries, Kids, London Play, SkillsActive and Black Voices Network.

Download ‘Four Asks for Play’ here.

Playwork community says ‘yes’ to new vehicle

10 Mar
A survey of practitioners has overwhelmingly endorsed the initiative to create a new membership body for playwork.

The survey, which ran from December 2014 to March 2015, received 155 responses from playwork practitioners, including managers, trainers, lecturers, researchers, campaigners and development workers, as well as face-to-face playworkers.

95 per cent of those responding replied ‘yes’ to the question, ‘do you think playwork needs a new body in the UK?’.

96 per cent of respondents to the survey said they would be interested in joining such a body if it was formed, with more than 76 per cent saying they would be either ‘extremely interested’ or ‘very interested’ in joining.

The survey also asked about priorities for a new body. Top of these, according to the aggregated responses, should be:

  • ‘to represent playwork and playworkers; giving us a collective voice’; followed closely by
  • ‘raising the status of playwork and improving the standing of playwork jobs’;
  • ‘campaigning for playwork – promoting it nationally and supporting local campaigns’; and
  • ‘influencing policy-making – to create a legal and regulatory framework that would support authentic playwork services’.

‘Working to create (or become) a professional body for playwork’ was the fifth priority for respondents.

The playwork community seems ready for a big move.

The playwork community seems ready for a big move.

Some respondents’ comments showed that, whilst welcoming the initiative, they have some important caveats. A common concern was that a new body should not undermine the work that is already being done to support playwork and its development by other bodies, particularly Play Wales.

The steering group for the initiative presented the survey findings last week at the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne, where they also set out their next steps for the project. These included setting up a new charitable organisation, developing a membership structure and planning for an inaugural general meeting where founding members could meet and elect its first board.

Steering group members, Karen Benjamin and Adrian Voce, who started the current initiative together after a meeting at Sheffield Hallam University in July 2013, said:

‘This is a big vote of support for the idea of a new representative body. Given our lack of resources to promote the survey, it was always going to be a small sample, but such a large majority in favour is a very positive result.

Now the hard work begins. We have quite intentionally kept the development work fully independent. Being owned by and accountable to members is one of the initiative’s guiding principles, derived from our consultation with the field.

‘This means we have to be self-sufficient, building slowly without funds until we are able to levy membership fees – which will then have to be modest, as we want the new body to be accessible to all those working or studying in the field.

‘We believe playwork is an important approach to working with children, which is often misunderstood and under-valued, and is currently lacking support. We think it needs its own independent body and our survey confirms that there are many people in the field who agree, although we also get the message loud and clear that whatever is created must complement and be careful not to undermine other efforts to support and develop the field’.

  • The survey results can be downloaded here.
  • A copy of the Eastbourne presentation is here.

If you are interested in the initiative to create a new vehicle for playwork, please email adrianvoce@me.com with ‘EOI’ (expression of interest) in the subject field.

Thank you!

Adrian Voce
on behalf of the Steering Group.

What do you need from a new body for playwork?

5 Jan

Have your say.

If you are part of the playwork community and haven’t yet completed this short survey about a potential new body, now’s your chance.

What better way to start the working year?

Thank you!

 

 

Time for playwork to re-group?

17 Dec
A steering group is continuing to explore the options for a new vehicle for playwork – and is calling on the field to respond in numbers to a survey that will help assess its prospects.

A Facebook group has recently been hosting a ‘Conversation for Authentic Playwork’. Dealing mainly with issues and questions of practice, it has highlighted the daily challenges of front-line playwork and offered some stimulating, occasionally heated, debates about the playwork approach.

What most members of this group would acknowledge, I am sure, is that whatever the tenets of good practice and how they might be applied in any given situation, the context for authentic playwork, however it is defined, has never been tougher.

It is not simply that jobs, projects and whole services are disappearing – and seem likely to continue to do so – but that some providers of the remaining services would appear to have very little understanding of what playwork really is.

The playwork principles may demand of practitioners that the ‘play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas’ but when employers – and inspectors – fail to understand what this means, or even recognise the principles themselves, this cannot be easy.

Concerned about the prospects for a profession still in its infancy in the face of the radical contraction of public services, the abandonment of the Play Strategy and the ‘back to basics’ approach to children’s services taken by the Coalition Government, in July 2013 Bob Hughes and the late Professor Perry Else called a meeting to look at how the field might respond.

Since the Sheffield summit, a number of those who attended have been exploring the possibilities for a new vehicle for playwork in the UK, which could promote and campaign for it, work to raise its status, support research, develop good practice, influence policy and offer services and benefits to playworkers.

There have been open meetings, website postings and a table at the national Playwork Conference in March 2014. A steering group has now been formed, and around 150 practitioners, trainers and advocates across the UK have signed a broad statement of aims and principles that should underpin any new body.

The steering group now wants to explore in a bit more depth the viability of a new body, which means developing and assessing the sustainability of a business model for it. As part of this research everyone in the UK playwork field is invited to complete a short questionnaire.

It remains to be seen if a new vehicle for playwork is viable – at a time when there are more closures than start-ups in the public and voluntary sectors – but the long-term survival of playwork as a distinct approach and a recognised vocation may depend upon the answer.

 Adrian Voce

As well as completing the survey, if you broadly endorse this approach and might be interested in joining it once it is formed, please e-mail adrianvoce@me.com with ‘Playwork EOI’ as the subject. We will then add you to the mailing list.

25 years on, children’s play remains the forgotten right

20 Nov
The 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child appears to be passing uncelebrated, at least by the government and its agencies. Perhaps this is because their record, certainly on one of the most important rights to children themselves, is nothing to shout about. Adrian Voce reports.

25 years ago today, on Universal Children’s Day 1989, the United Nations adopted its Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the first comprehensive, international treaty to recognise, protect, and promote the fulfillment of basic human rights for children everywhere.

The CRC was the culmination of many decades of campaigning across the world and, according to the UN, ‘marked the transition from addressing children’s immediate needs through charity alone … towards advocacy (for) systemic change for the realisation of (their) rights’. The anniversary will be celebrated in many countries to recognise the gains the CRC has helped to bring about in areas such as education and participation for children.

‘the CRC marked the transition from addressing children’s immediate needs through charity alone … towards advocacy (for) systemic change for the realisation of (their) rights’ – United Committee on the Rights of the Child

In England, however, it appears to be passing by without remark. Even the office of the Children’s Commissioner, whose recently reformed[i] role is to ‘promote and protect children’s rights in accordance with the UNCRC’, does not appear to think the date noteworthy enough for a statement, let alone an event. The Children’s Commissioner’s annual Takeover Day is tomorrow. This is when tens of thousands of children ‘take over’ adult jobs for the day to ‘get a real insight into the world of work’ and ‘make their voices heard’. Might not those voices want to assert more of their rights than for work experience? Perhaps they will; we shall see.

 

179974_10151043886721609_215244782_n

Where next for children’s right to play in England?

 

One of the earliest antecedents to the CRC was a document, now more than a century old, rejoicing in the title, The Declaration of Dependence by the Children of America in Mines and Factories and Workshops Assembled (1913)[ii]. This landmark publication began by stating ‘that childhood is endowed with certain inherent and inalienable rights, among which are freedom from toil for daily bread; the right to play and to dream…’ The document was a key instrument of the movement to abolish child labour in the United States, and was influential in the early children’s rights movement in the UK and Europe too

Leaving aside the irony that the United States, after playing such a key early role, is now the only nation not to have either ratified the CRC or signalled its intention to do so, the labouring children of America on whose behalf the declaration was made, given a glimpse into the future, may have been just a little bit puzzled that an annual event designed to highlight the importance of children’s rights in a later age, did so by sending them to work in adult jobs for a day.

According to the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), in ‘most respects there is poor implementation’ of the CRC in England, with no domestic law requiring statutory bodies to comply, or giving children the means to challenge. Neither, according to CRAE, ‘is there any cross-government children’s rights strategy with actions and targets … Government budgets do not identify how much money is spent on children’ and there is a lack of other data too.

‘in most respects there is poor implementation’ of the CRC in England’- Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE)

CRAE’s 12th periodic State of Children’s Rights in England report published yesterday reveals that it is children who are bearing the brunt of austerity measures resulting in ‘too many … having their basic human rights breached’.

Not least of these is their right ‘to play and to dream’. Under Article 31 of the CRC, ‘States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities, and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts’, but according to CRAE’s report this right continues to ‘suffer from poor recognition of its importance, and a lack of investment by government at national and local level’. Indeed, since the abandonment of the last Government’s long-term play strategy, the report finds an overall reduction of 54% in funding for play by local authorities. A closer reading reveals that this figure is derived from the only 32 councils who responded to a Freedom of Information request – and of these three had reduced their play spending to zero. A more accurate figure for the reduced spending on play  – including all those authorities who presumably do not even have anyone left to field the enquiry – is therefore likely to be considerably higher.

Of course an international perspective on the progress of children’s rights since 1989 highlights concerns other than children’s play. A report by UNICEF, also published yesterday, whilst assessing that their has been overall progress on a number of fronts, also contains the sobering statistic that after 25 years, still ‘17,000 children under the age of 5 die every day largely from causes we know how to prevent’.

UNICEF is right to highlight the terrible plight of the millions of children affected by war, famine and extreme poverty, whose most basic right to life is under threat. But in signing and ratifying the CRC, the UK was not simply adding its support to a global campaign to end child hunger and protect them from the ravages of war. According to the current government, since the CRC into force here, on 15 January 1992 ‘all UK government policies and practices must comply with it’.

‘the right to an adequate standard of living, to an education, to be cared for and to play … (they) should always receive minimum standards of treatment whatever the changing economic climate’ – CRAE

This means, according to CRAE, that for ‘the basic things children need to thrive – the right to an adequate standard of living, to an education, to be cared for and to play … (they) should always receive minimum standards of treatment whatever the changing economic climate’.

The Government’s own report on progress under the CRC, an 86-page document published in May this year, contains one paragraph about children’s play in England, and this mainly about a the 12 year strategy that it abandoned after less than three (although this latter fact is discretely omitted). What the government has done since is covered by one sentence: ‘wider activities to promote and support play were also supported’.

A new report on the economics of the obesity epidemic, also published today, finds that it is a greater burden on the UK’s economy than armed violence, war and terrorism, costing the country a massive £47bn a year. This puts it on a par with the effects of smoking, but with a far more complex set of causes. The report, by McKinsey and Company, illustrates the shortcomings of the strictly evidence-based approach that I discussed in my last blog. Not mentioning children’s play at all, its recommendations to increase physical activity in children are limited to obesity ‘boot-camps’ and ‘changing physical activity curricula in schools’. This is presumably because these interventions are measurable in the way that the accepted model for cost-benefit analyses need to be.

IMG_2837

Children will do anythiing to avoid obesity boot-camp

 

Creating the healthful environments for children, where they are free, permitted and encouraged to move and play throughout their lives and within each of the domains in which they are grow, learn and develop, is not an ‘intervention’ that economic analysts are able to easily monetise and quantify, at least not since such an attempt was abandoned in 2010, ironically, to save money. But every parent knows that a child who has played to their fill, outside in the fresh air with their friends, comes home exercised, tired and hungry, ready for a good meal and a good night’s sleep.

‘opportunities for spontaneous play may be the only requirement that young children need to increase their physical activity’ – Dr William Dietz, British Medical Journal (2001)

One of the earliest warnings about a growing ‘obesity epidemic in young children’ appeared within a 2001 report carried in The British Medical Journal, which found that ‘opportunities for spontaneous play may be the only requirement that young children need to increase their physical activity and that the main solution to the imminent crisis was to ‘reduce television viewing and promote playing[iii].’

Should we be guaranteeing this simple opportunity for children in order to help prevent the rising costs of the obesity crisis? No, we should be doing it because it is our responsibility, our obligation under international law: because it is children’s right, because they are self-evidently happier and healthier when they can play than when they cannot; and because families, communities and societies everywhere are more at ease with themselves when they do.

Whatever the reasons, the price of not providing for children’s right to play will continue to mount, and the rising costs of obesity will be the least of it. One challenge for Anne Longfield, the incoming Children’s Commissioner, an old friend of the play movement who was an early treasurer of the Children’s Play Council, should be to support the calls for a new national play strategy (even if this marks a departure from the mindset behind national Takeover Day).

On this 25th anniversary of the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child, in the West at least, perhaps it is time we renewed an earlier vision for childhood, as a time for playing and dreaming.

Adrian Voce

[i] Children and Families Act 2014, Part 6

[ii] McKelway, A (2013), National Child Labour Committee (USA)

[iii] Dietz WH (2001) ‘The obesity epidemic in young children,’ British Medical Journal. Vol 322 pp 313-314

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