August 5th is National PlayDay which celebrates the importance of child-directed play. At the 2017 IPA Triennial World Conference in Calgary, IPA Canada announced that it would resurrect its national playday initiative. We revised our PlayDay Manual and encourage municipalities, groups and individuals to use this resource to plan and host a playday in their community. The PlayDay manual is available for download in our resources section.
IPA Canada aligned its National PlayDay with the National PlayDay in the United Kingdom which is the first Wednesday of August in the hope to encourage the establishment of a worldwide International PlayDay. In 2019, there were 26 registered PlayDays across Canada. The 2020 National PlayDay falls on August 5th.
Canada has a long history of rich play provision for children. Fifty years ago there was a broader understanding that play was a developmental necessity for children and there was effort put into creating areas where children could explore and learn through their play. In fact, the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation of Canada (CMHC), under the guidance of Polly Hill (IPA World president from 1978 to 1981), developed various guides on creating different types of spaces that would support children’s self-directed play. In the late 70s and 80s Adventure Playgrounds, found in various parts of the country were a reflection of a wider variety of play opportunities for children in public spaces.
Covers of manuals published by CMHC circa late 1970s
Others involved in IPA were interested in promoting children’s play through the hosting of adventure playdays and promoting the use of loose parts. Dr. Garfield Pennington (at UBC and an IPA Canada member) and Valerie Fronzcek (IPA Canada Advisor, IPA World Communications Officer , IPA World Vice-President) helped B.C. develop a better understanding of loose parts play provision in the early 80s. These two play leaders also supported IPA Canada through the development of our initial PlayDays Manual.
IPA Canada received funds from Sunlight to develop the PlayDay manual and partnered with the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRA) to promote the hosting of playdays across the country in the early 2000s. Kim Sanderson (IPA Canada President 2000 – 2009) and Paul St Arnaud (IPA Canada Treasurer 2000 – 2020) both worked at the city of Edmonton and helped that city become Canada’s hotspot for child-directed play in the 2000s. They hosted adventure playdays in all seasons in addition to leading a variety of play projects.
Since the early 2000s, more groups in different pockets of the country have been promoting children’s play in a variety of ways and since 2010 their numbers are growing. But even with this recent resurgence in interest for children’s play, there are very few municipalities in the country who have policies in place which explicitly support play provision. There are no policies at the provincial level (except for the early childhood education realm) or the federal level which would indicate a broad understanding and willingness to support children’s play.
National PlayDay is an opportunity for IPA Canada to work with individuals and communities to put children’s play in the spotlight. PlayDay provides an avenue to build awareness for the importance of self-directed play in the healthy development of children and communities.
This year, more than ever, it is important to emphasize the necessity of play for the fundamental well-being of children especially during our current time of crisis. Current public health regulations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic require IPA Canada to take a different approach to National PlayDay 2020.
IPA Canada is encouraging families or bubbles of friends to put on a loose parts playday at a location of their choosing. It may be in the living room or back yard or in a community space. The goal is to shine a light on play’s many benefits including its ability to help children cope with feelings (anxiety, depression, loneliness, confusion and so on) during a time of crisis and, particularly, during the COVID-19 pandemic. When children have the time, space and freedom to play, they nurture their well-being.