In June, I had the great fortune to spend three days in London, England hosted by Tim Gill to visit outdoor play programs and sites around the city and in nearby Bristol. I visited a breadth of children’s outdoor play opportunities including forest school, early learning centres, adventure playgrounds, loose parts play programs in schools, community street play initiatives, and public playscapes. I also joined meetings of the Children’s Play Policy Forum and Play Safety Forum.
Indeed I was wowed by some of the innovations in design and the thoughtful way environments were planned to support risk in play. And I delighted in the faces of children engaged in play and learning come rain or shine. But I have to say I was most impressed by the adults I met and what I perceived to be a deep commitment to children first, even before their commitment to children’s play.
I saw it in the eyes of playworkers and heard it in their words as they nurtured and supported the complex social interactions of kids at play. I recognized it in the actions of preschool teachers and playworkers who dedicated time to scouring their communities and the countryside to source a myriad of loose parts.
I noted that the U.K. play policy advocates were fundamentally focused on a child’s right to play as per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). That’s food for thought here in Canada where the prevailing dialogue focuses more on the value of play to reduce obesity and improve health outcomes, or to support play-based learning, or to connect kids to nature. Of course that is a very important dialogue to be having and one the Lawson Foundation is deeply interested in. But I was struck by the broad recognition of a child’s right to play and the adults thereby dedicated to ensuring play provision. Should we be engaging more around a child’s right to play in Canada? I would love to hear from outdoor play stakeholders on this question.
While I spent only a few days in London I felt there was something very special about play in the UK, and I think it begins with adults who are passionate about supporting children. As I start my list of active ingredients to nurture a successful Outdoor Play Strategy in Canada, I am going to put passion for children at the very top. What about the right to play – does it belong on the list too?