Why play is important

Why play is important

Play is an essential part of every child’s life and is vital for the enjoyment of childhood as well as social, emotional, intellectual and physical development.

When children are asked about what they think is important in their lives, playing and friends is usually at the top of the list.

Defining play

How do we define what ‘playing’ actually means?

Our Charter for Children’s Play describes play as: ‘what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests, in their own way, and for their own reasons.’

Play has also frequently been described as ‘what children and young people do when they are not being told what to do by adults’.

Having time and space to play gives children the opportunity to meet and socialise with their friends, keeps them physically active, and gives the freedom to choose what they want to do.

Research shows that play has many benefits for children, families and the wider community, as well as improving health and quality of life. Recent research suggests that children’s access to good play provision can:

  • increase their self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-respect
  • improve and maintain their physical and mental health
  • give them the opportunity to mix with other children
  • allow them to increase their confidence through developing new skills
  • promote their imagination, independence and creativity
  • offer opportunities for children of all abilities and backgrounds to play together
  • provide opportunities for developing social skills and learning
  • build resilience through risk taking and challenge, problem solving, and dealing with new and novel situations
  • provide opportunities to learn about their environment and the wider community.

Evidence is also available that outlines wider benefits of play provision for families and communities, suggesting that:

  • parents can feel more secure knowing that their children are happy, safe and enjoying themselves
  • families benefit from healthier, happier children
  • buildings and facilities used by play services are frequently seen as a focal point for communities
  • it offers opportunities for social interaction for the wider community and supports the development of a greater sense of community spirit, promoting social cohesion
  • public outside spaces have an important role in the everyday lives of children and young people, especially as a place for meeting friends
  • parks and other green spaces are popular with adults taking young children out to play and for older children and young people to spend time together.

Summaries of the research and evidence of the positive benefits of play are discussed in detail in Play for a Change.

Children’s right to play is a human right

On 1 February 2013 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted a General Comment that clarifies for governments worldwide the meaning and importance of Article 31 of the Convention on the Right of the Child.

A General Comment is an official statement that elaborates on the meaning of an aspect of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that seems to require further interpretation or emphasis. The aim of the General Comment is to raise the importance of an Article and increase accountability among countries that have signed up to the Convention.

The International Play Association (IPA) provided evidence to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that has persuaded them there is need to clarify Article 31 – this clarification is made through the publication of a General Comment. The IPA has taken a lead role in the development of the General Comment.

Download General Comment 17 on Article 31

Download summary of General Comment 17 on Article 31