World Children’s Day 2023

November 20th is World Children’s Day!

November 20th also marks the 33rd anniversary of Canada ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC). To mark this occasion, PLAYLearnThink would like to shine the light on Article 31 of the UN CRC which is known as the Play Article. Unfortunately, it is also known as the forgotten article since very little is done by world governments, including Canada, to uphold the child’s right to play despite the efforts of national organizations such as the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children (CCRC) and the Canadian branch of the International Play Association (IPA Canada).

The UN CRC has been ratified by all countries on the planet save one. As a signatory, Canada is bound to uphold all the articles of the convention yet every Canadian governmental report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has failed to mention the child’s right to play.

In 2011, at the urging of IPA World, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child began the process of drafting a General Comment on Article 31. A General Comment is a UN document which is sent to all countries outlining their failings to uphold a specific article and makes concrete recommendations for actions to rectify the situation. The General Comment on Article 31 (UN GC-17) was published in early 2013 yet no action has been taken by Canada to support and promote self-directed play.

Play is a fundamental necessity for children. It underpins their cognitive, social, physical, emotional and spiritual development. Play is not organized sports which tend to be adult structured. Play is intrinsically motivated and self-directed. Children engage in play when they are free to choose what they do, how they do it, when they do it, where they do it and with whom (alone or with others). Children’s innate need to play drives their exploration of their physical and social environments which allows children to build knowledge about the world around them and develop skills they will need to navigate life’s challenges.

Play becomes even more important during times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Children (especially young children) do not have the emotional maturity to process everything that may be going on around them: anxiety in the household, a heightened focus on not losing schooling hours, uncertainty regarding the pandemic and how it will affect them, physical distancing, isolation, and the list goes on. When children play, they feel safe. They are free to explore their emotions and they learn to understand that various situations can make them feel differently. Through their self-directed play children develop skills which help them process environmental anxiety. This helps them nurture their self-confidence and build resilience which will serve them well in the future.

When opportunities to play are diminished, children are deprived of their natural coping mechanism. Studies on play deprivation have shown that no play can have devastating and long lasting effects on children’s development (Children Without Play, Webb and Brown, 2005). So in these uncertain times, it is imperative that we recognize the child’s need (and right) to play. It is the best defence they have against anxiety and depression during this pandemic.

Click here to download and view IPA Canada’s recently released Declaration on Play.