All children have the right to play as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; Article 31:
“Children have the right to relax and play and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities”
All children and young people regardless of their age, ability, culture, ethnicity or background, need time and space to play freely. Ensuring that every child has access to stimulating play environments throughout their childhood is an important way of supporting their well-being and development.
Children will play anywhere – interesting and challenging play environments can enrich and expand children’s play, generate feelings of well-being and self-worth, and promote positive relationships. It extends a wide range of important possibilities to children: to have contact with nature; to test and expand their interests and abilities; to make their own explorations and discoveries; to play without undue adult involvement; to interact, make change and transform their surroundings.
Many children spend considerable amounts of their time in childcare settings. This might be before and after school, and during school holidays. Adults that work in these settings should have a high level of playwork skills, obtained through playwork qualifications or training. Minimum Standards for Childminding and Daycare in Northern Ireland now recognises playwork as the most suitable qualification for those working in School Age childcare settings.
What makes a good play environment?
What children want from a play space will vary according to their age, interest and circumstances. However, in general, children show preference for environments that offer variety, flexibility, natural elements, risk and challenge. Children need and want to stretch and challenge themselves when they play.
Risk and challenge
Play provision that is stimulating, challenging and exciting allows children to take risk, which helps them to build confidence, learn new skills and develop resilience at their own pace. It also helps equip them to manage risk safety in their lives. A balanced approach to managing risk in play involves bringing together in a single process – thinking about both risks and benefits. Recent years have seen the development of risk benefit assessment as the best way to support this process. Organisations involved in providing play opportunities, should adopt a risk benefit approach.
Play provision should aim to:
- Extend the choice and control that children have over their play, the freedom they enjoy and the satisfaction they gain from it.
- Recognise children’s need to test boundaries and respond positively to that need
- Manage the balance between children’s need to play and the need to keep them from being exposed to unacceptable risks of serious injury
- Maximise the range of play opportunities both indoors and out, and maximise the amount of time for play
- Foster independence and self – esteem
- Increase children’s respect for others and offer opportunities for social interaction
- Improve the child’s well-being, healthy growth and development, knowledge and understanding, creativity and capacity to learn (NPFA et al 2000)