About IPA

The Child’s Right to Play


IPA is an international organization founded in Denmark in 1961 and has members in over 50 countries. It is an interdisciplinary organization, bringing together people from all professions working for and with children, including playworkers, planners, psychologists, educators, academics, architects, artists, researchers, childcare workers, trainers, health workers, and landscape designers. The purpose of IPA is to protect, preserve and promote the child's right to play as a fundamental human right.

IPA Canada was formed in 1978 after IPA's trienniel conference that year in Ottawa. The Canadian organization provides a vehicle for multi-disciplinary exchange and action towards preserving the child's right to play in Canada.

The Importance of Play

Play is fundamental to all aspects of child development and is a key component in preserving community and culture, in the broadest sense.

Play is valuable in children's physical exercise and growth and in their development of motor skills. Children playing together present rich opportunities for social, moral and emotional development and hence for the development of their personality and their ability to handle stress and conflict. It is in free play that children learn to understand and co-operate with others. The quintessential nature of play is that it is initiated and controlled by children and this element, and the resulting social competence, has been critically linked to the development of resiliency in children and youth at risk.

Natural outdoor play environments offer important opportunities for children to begin to value the environment. Through play children explore cause and effect and gradually build a knowledge base that cannot be taught through structured learning activities. Play is a vehicle for the development of creativity and flexibility, invaluable qualities in human development.

Play can be a vehicle for children to pass on their culture, for sharing between generations, and for children to communicate their feelings and ideas to adults. Through play young children learn to become active participants in community. Play days and play festivals are a major form of celebration of culture and community around the world. Play is also a way for children to gain a sense of control over difficult circumstances as witnessed in hospital settings and in war zones.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Canada in 1991, requires governments:

To recognize the right of the child...to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate for the age of the child...

To encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Misconception of the Value of Play

The importance of play to children is strongly supported by researchers from a range of disciplines including psychology, education, philosophy, anthropology and recreation. In spite of this, society as a whole continues to view play as a frivolous pastime, at best useful for children to "let off steam".

The reasons for this misunderstanding are many and varied. One reason is our difficulty in clearly defining play. Play is not synonymous with recreation, although there are many opportunities for play in recreation programs and environments, and it does not include everything children do in their leisure time. Play is not created by adults for children, but behaviour children initiate themselves. Play is spontaneous, self-motivated, controlled by the child. Ideally, the adult role combines setting the stage and facilitating; that is, supporting rather than directing children’s play.

For reasons already outlined, specialists in children’s play theory see play as fundamental to human development.

Examples of Barriers to the Child’s Right to Play

Attitudes toward children’s play, and/or lack of public awareness of the value of play, are arguably the underlying cause of most of these barriers.

A concerted effort on the part of governments, organizations and communities should be made to promote the fact that play and learning are not competing ideologies.

Time: This lack of awareness of the significance of play results in the control of children's time. The current perception is that school work and the learning of specific skills is the best path to "success" in this increasingly competitive world economy.

Parents and other decision makers must ensure a balance in children's lives both to avoid unhealthy levels of stress and to allow opportunities for informal play.

Changing Family Life Patterns can have a negative effect on children's opportunities for free play. Increasing workloads have limited parents' time and energy to play with their children and this in turn has resulted in children spending more time in organized programs.

Employment policies which recognize the value of parents' time with children should be supported and applauded.

After school programmers should be encouraged to focus on play.

Technology: T.V. computers and computer games are not entirely without elements of play. However, the number of hours children can devote to screens of one kind or another, can be damaging.

Schools, communities and parents must work together to ensure a balance in children's lives through offering engaging alternatives to sedentary and isolated activities.

Education and Training of Professionals: There is little play content in professional development curricula. Children would benefit from an increase in knowledge of play by architects, landscape and interior designers, planners, health professionals, teachers, coaches, and recreationists. Even in traditional bastions of children's play theory, such as early childhood education and recreation, there is increasing pressure to teach skills and to conform to a market-driven mindset.

Recreation and out-of-school care providers need to join forces to develop standards, guidelines and curricula along with appropriate delivery mechanisms which will serve in the education and training of all professionals who work for and with children.

Places for Children to Play: There are a number of issues that create barriers to children's play opportunities in Canadian communities:

Playgrounds: The 20th century version of a children's public playground represents a very narrow view of children's play. Also, with the mixed blessing of safety regulations they are becoming increasingly less challenging and less interesting to children. Taking risk such as climbing, building with tools, skateboarding etc. is a necessary part of natural growth and development. So also is interaction with the natural environment.

There is a need for a paradigm shift in the way we think about playgrounds. Children need a wider range of play possibilities, which would be ensured through a much greater variety of play material and by involving children in the planning process. Also the availability of play facilitators (not supervisors) would greatly enhance the play possibilities. Special consideration should be given to access for children with disabilities.

Schoolgrounds: Schoolgrounds are currently not valued as important settings for social or educational development although students spend approximately twenty-five percent of their time at school on school grounds. The lack of value placed on school grounds is manifested in wastelands of gravel, mud and hard surfaces, often void of trees, grass and interesting places for children to play and socialize.

There is a need for Provincial and/or Regional leadership to address the under-utilization of schoolgrounds as places where children's natural development is enhanced. Schoolgrounds should be seen as valuable community space. Provincial and municipal governments, school boards, unions, parent groups and students themselves should share in the responsibility for them.

Decision-makers and planners should apply a ‘child friendly lens' to policy affecting young people in public space and involve children themselves as much as possible. Examples of things that may be considered are; preservation of undeveloped land, parks that are close to schools and jointly planned with schools, community gardens where children and youth can care for plants, and parks and open space that offer children and youth opportunities for climbing, challenge and adventure.

Housing and Local Streets: Children's first experiences of the world are typically contained within their homes, yards and streets close by. Multi-family housing complexes do not always adequately accommodate children's play, and attitudes toward children and youth playing "close to home" often discourage such play. Traffic is a serious and increasing hazard in many communities.

Children would benefit from a higher priority put on playspace particularly in multi-family housing, and by rental or sale agreements that do not place restrictions on the normal play and recreation activities of children and youth. Planners should ensure a wide range of environments to encourage many kinds of children's play and ensure they are well situated, safe, and well maintained.

Safety: Fear of abuse and abduction has become a real threat to children's free play particularly outdoor play which is so important for their development.

Efforts need to be made by municipal programmers, parent and community groups, especially in high-risk neighbourhoods, for children to have opportunities to play with other children in safety.


Play is not just about providing safe playgrounds for children. It is fundamentally about protecting their right to be free to explore and discover the physical and social world around them on their own terms.

Child advocates must be vigilant in their protection of this right, for the twenty-first century offers serious threats to this seemingly natural and simple aspect of human development.





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