I wasn’t planning a blog post until after I got my grades submitted (end of term craziness does not support one’s ability to engage in creative thinking or be inspired). However, this morning I became aware of a new movement – Giving Tuesday and was inspired to think about the need to support play. Giving Tuesday follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday – two days focused on engaging in consumer behavior (some of which may be leisure, but from some of what I saw on the news – it wouldn’t satisfy the “enjoyment” component of a leisure experience for me).
In Canada, over 800 organizations have partnered with the Giving Tuesday movement. It is described as a new movement which focuses on giving and volunteering. From the movement’s website, Giving Tuesday is described as,”The ‘opening day of the giving season,’ it is a day where charities, companies and individuals join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and think about others.” The point is made that we have two days that are “good for the economy” and now we have a day that is “good for community too.”
This may be an excellent opportunity to perhaps “detox” from Black Friday and Cyber Monday and switch one’s focus.
One of the organizations partnering with Giving Tuesday is Right to Play. It is an organization I chose to make a donation to today because play is something I believe every child should have the opportunity to experience. But beyond the donation, I wanted to highlight Children’s Right to Leisure, Play, and Recreation.
Children’s Right to Leisure, Play, and Recreation
Children’s access to leisure, play, and recreational activities is formally recognized internationally as a fundamental right in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The terms “rest, leisure, play and recreation” are not specifically defined, although in examining some of the research and discussion on UNCRC Article 31, it seems there is a consensus that leisure and play include unstructured activities that are generally free from adult supervision. Recreation activities tend to be organized, led, and supervised by adults (e.g., sport programs).
Recognizing the Right to Recreation Means…
Promoting the benefits and being an advocate. There has been considerable research on the outcomes of children’s participation in structured extracurricular activities both within the school context and in their community such as through church groups, community sport participation, and club involvement (e.g., Girl Guides or Boy Scouts). Participation is linked with higher academic achievement, positive development (e.g., developing prosocial values, social bonds, resiliency in overcoming challenges), and healthier lifestyles and lifestyle choices to name only a few. Promoting the benefits helps raise awareness of the importance of protecting this right.
Reducing barriers to participation. Unfortunately, not all children have access to recreation activities. Research shows that a high percentage of marginalized children (e.g., living in poverty, children who are newcomers to Canada, children who are an ethnic minority) have no or very limited access to sport and recreation. For marginalized youth, cost and transportation are significant barriers.
- Offering time periods when fees are reduced or activities are free
- If a community or organization offers subsidies to citizens who are low income, ensuring the process for accessing the subsidy is not complicated may be crucial to youth being supported with such programs.
- Providing transportation (free of charge) to events or activities or working to locate recreation opportunities within neighborhoods (e.g., traveling youth programs where leaders or facilitators visit various neighborhood parks or playgrounds within a community to offer youth recreation experiences).
- Contribute to organizations such as Right to Play or KidSport (in Canada) which help support children whose families could not otherwise afford their participation in activities. Make a donation or volunteer your time to help with fundraising activities or with spreading the word about the organization’s role in supporting children’s participation in play and sport and therefor their development as youth.
Recognizing the Right to Leisure and Play Means…
Supporting unstructured leisure and free play. A few years ago there was a documentary that aired called the “Lost Adventures of Childhood”. It contained stories of children who were so booked up, they did their homework in the car as they were chauffeured between activities. Other children, young children less than 8 years old, were shown participating in a stress management program. Meanwhile, research is showing that those kids who do participate in lots of activities can start seeing diminishing returns, a phenomenon called the “threshold effect” and benefits of participation begin to level off at about five to seven activities. Children need space in their day and week to be able to engage in unstructured leisure and free play.
Promoting and protecting children’s play. Adults should be aware of the importance of play and take action to promote and protect the conditions that support it. Play is imaginative, creative, spontaneous. Generally play and unstructured leisure are engaged in without a specific agenda including specific outcomes to be achieved. The only agenda is the one set by the child and may be to “have fun” or to build something or master something. The guiding principle is that an intervention to promote play acknowledges its characteristics and allows sufficient flexibility, unpredictability, and security for children to play freely. Providing objects for play or taking children to spaces where they can play helps in promoting play. Telling children exactly what they have to do with those objects or in those spaces may not promote play. Also, find ways to counter the popular, sometimes misguided sentiments that children’s free, spontaneous play is frivolous and unimportant and that structure-based, guided, rule-laden activities initiated and executed by adults can serve the inherent play needs of children.
Providing dedicated spaces for children’s play. Skate parks, for example, are important spaces for some youth. These are spaces where they can be creative, learn skills from peers, and practice those skills. Not all communities provide spaces for youth to engage in this activity. Parks, playgrounds, and youth centres are other spaces in which free play and unstructured leisure can occur. Consider being an advocate for youth spaces when your community is engage in planning activities that may involve spaces that could be dedicated to children’s play activities.
And specifically on Giving Tuesday, you might consider making a donation to support children’s play. Or, you might consider volunteering in a way that will support children’s play.