Platform: Is making time to play necessary?

Chris Quinn, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) recognises the UN’s first International Day of Play, here are his thoughts on why play needs to be prioritised in all our lives

Creche facility
Play is an important aspect of a child's development (Rawpixel/Getty Images)

Tuesday 11 June marks the United Nation’s first International Day of Play, a day to recognise the importance of play for everyone, especially children, and prioritise it’s benefits to help them achieve their full potential.

The UN states that play comforts and soothes children, it encourages stronger relationships with their peers, parents/care givers and develops their resilience as well as conquer their fears. When children play, they feel safe and in general develops their imagination and creativity setting them up for the tech-driven world that we live in.

Something I have learned by meeting hundreds of children and young people is that play, and playfulness is taken for granted, it’s a mindset that needs to be nurtured, not obtained. The true definition of play is the act of engaging in an activity that requires no rules, merit or reward, a time when a child has freedom to do what they want, follow their own ideas, and have fun with the people they are with.

As a kid playing was my happy place. To get away from the stress of school and meet my friends whether it was exploring what we called ‘the dump’ in Elmfield, Glengormley, with my childhood best friend or playing with a bucket of Lego at my granny’s house, it was something that helped me find my flow.

However, there are many times when children and young people face daily barriers from play. Whether that is homework eating into their play time, environmental factors of not having a safe place to play outside because of busy roads, or at times not having the interaction with other children or adults to help facilitate play.

Organisations such as the UN, Playboard and even corporations including IKEA, Lego and Fisher Price deliver dedicated research in the importance of play and how to remove the daily play barriers for children and adults alike, it’s a fascinating read. The UN states that it is estimated that 160 million children around the world are working instead of playing or learning and 41% of children have been told to stop playing outside by either their parents or other adults such as neighbours.

With devastating global conflicts taking place, the call for shaping the future hearts and minds of children is imperative as play is the first thing to disappear from their lives. Closer to home, much more needs to be done to protect and promote the emotional and mental health and wellbeing of our infants, babies, children and young people. Play is essential in the development and wellbeing of children. Play continues to be important into youth and young adulthood enhancing physical, mental, intellectual and emotional wellbeing. Play helps build resilience, confidence and social skills. And let’s not forget, play is so much fun!

The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), article 31 is one of my favourites, it protects children’s right to play – ‘Every child has the right to rest, relax, play and to take part in cultural and creative activities.’

As Commissioner, it is my duty to make a promise to every child to protect and promote their rights, with this international legal framework. Therefore, I urge policy makers, town planners, educators, and communities to elevate the importance of play for all children; more safe spaces to play, more curriculum based activities developed around play, and apply article 31 in child related policies.

What could happen if we all took time to reconnect to play? Playing is enjoyable, creative, helps develop identity, motor and cognitive skills, and builds self-awareness.

Anyone that knows me, knows how much I love to play. Doesn’t matter what it is or where it is, it’s part of who I am.

Today, I will be celebrating the UN International Day of Play by stopping to take time to play with my kids with a kick about outside, a board game, or a brain teaser. Let’s promote the power of play together!