The Importance of Play for Children
Play is a right, not a privilege
Article 31 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child states PLAY is every child’s right. However, thousands of children across the world cannot exercise this right. Many children have household responsibilities from a young age: caring for their siblings, cleaning the house, fetching water every day, working to make money and even fighting wars.
This is where The Power of Play (TPOP) steps in to help. Founded in 2017, The Power of Play’s mission is to support every child’s right to learn and develop through the power of play by creating a safe, loving and fun environment that allows children to do what they do best – Play! It has built sustainable playgrounds in over 34 playgrounds in 8 countries. Thus providing over 27,000 children that have experienced extreme levels of stress and hardship, such as refugees, victims of human trafficking, victims of gender-based violence, orphans and others, the opportunity to rediscover childhood and heal through play.
Important Benefits of Play
Play nourishes a child’s body, mind, and soul. During the magic of play, children connect with their peers and develop their mental and social skills, they take risks, make sense of the world, and regulate their emotions. Play is the only time that children are in control of their lives. They get to create, imagine, and experience joy. – The Power of Play CEO, Reza Marvasti
Play is a natural instinct that children possess. It is important for the adults in children’s lives to encourage them to play and socialize with other children. Through play, children learn to develop relationships with their peers on equal terms(1). This helps children become happy adults. Many of the children in the communities where TPOP works do not have opportunities or places to play. Thousands suffer from trauma, which consequently hinders their psycho-social wellbeing and development. TPOP’s playgrounds provide a safe environment for children to play and connect with their peers. Furthermore, their parents and caregivers can observe the importance play has on their children’s development.
The Power of Play built two playgrounds and a soccer field at a juvenile and women’s prison in Juba, South Sudan. Dhol Adhel Acuil, a representative from TPOP’s partner, Center for Community Transformation, shared that during the facilities’ opening, there was applause, cheer and happiness all around. Designing and constructing the playground brought the younger and older children together in solidarity and brotherhood. She believes this project will influence a lot of change in the kids and inmates.
(1) Gray, Peter, and Jay Feldman. “Playing in the Zone of Proximal Development: Qualities of Self‐Directed Age Mixing between Adolescents and Young Children at a Democratic School,” American Journal of Education, vol. 110, no. 2, Feb. 2004, pp. 108–146, citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.591.49&rep=rep1&type=pdf, 10.1086/380572. Accessed 16 June 2019
Play brings joy, smiles and laughter to children. As Dr. David Gray wrote in Psychology Today, “The joy of play is the ecstatic feeling of liberty.”(2) This emotional impact was palpable upon the conclusion of TPOP’s United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHRC) Gorom Refugee Camp playground, built in 2021. 1,400 children refugee children victims of war and strife benefitted from this project at the Uin South Sudan. Reza commented he noticed an immediate change in the children as soon as the playground was inaugurated. They went from being shy and reserved to joyful, energetic and open. Play contributes to the emotional development of children by having them “learn to live in community and groups [where through] risky play they get to take risks and overcome fear.” Dr. Gray adds that play is nature’s way for all mammals to graduate into adulthood. This can be achieved by allowing kids to make their own rules in play, to create games of their own, to take control and direct themselves in the expressive means of play. This leads not only to a profound release of joy for the children, but it makes the world less of a scary place to be(3).
(2) Gray, Peter, “The Value of Play I: The Definition of Play Gives Insights,” Psychology Today, November 19, 2008, https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/freedom-learn/200811/the-value-play-i-the-definition-play-gives-insights.
(3) Peter Gray, “The Decline of Play,” YouTube, June 13, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg-GEzM7iTk
Play is by definition creative and innovative. Imaginary play is a given whenever children are on the playground. When children play make-believe, it teaches them social roles and mutual trust. Creativity also fosters a child’s ability to problem-solve and develop their personality. As Gray and Feldman point out, “children are naturally social and curious about the activities of others around them, and eager to take part.”(4) It is through the expression of imaginative play that children discover things that they may not otherwise experience. Imagination and self-discovery help children to look at the world around them with a keen awareness that, for adults, may seem repetitive(5). However, that is just the child processing his or her way to an understanding of their world. TPOP designs communities’ playgrounds based on the children’s designs, as they know best how they love to play. This fosters children’s creativity and imagination.
(4) Gray, Peter, and Jay Feldman, “Playing in the Zone of Proximal Development: Qualities of Self‐Directed Age Mixing between Adolescents and Young Children at a Democratic School,”
(5) Elkind, David, “Learning Through Play,” Community Play Things, May 1, 2009, https://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2009/learning-through-play.
Education Through Play
Children learn and grow through play. According to Dr. Peter Gray, psychologist and author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, play is a “primal mode of education.”(6) Dating all the way back to hunter-gatherer cultures, children acquire skills, values and knowledge through play.
Kathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Fund, once said that,“Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.” That is the spirit by which TPOP operates. In collaboration with La Casa Clu and Red Ball Movement, TPOP built a playground and rock climbing wall for La Casa Clu, a civil association, recreation and learning center, in the village of San Ignacio benefiting 150 children. Children can feel free to express their feelings, and it is a safe place for them to play, create, teach, learn, share, laugh and grow.
(6) Gray, Peter, “The Evolutionary Importance of Self-Directed Play,” The Genius of Play, N.d, https://thegeniusofplay.org/genius/expert-advice/articles/the-evolutionary-importance-of-self-directed-play.aspx#.YomDqC-B1QI.