September is a time for many kids for all that comes with back to school – new classes, teachers, and friends! For those of us long out of grade school, the changing temperatures and colours of the fall and a new burst of energy post-summer make it seem like the perfect time to launch projects and explore new ideas.
Inspired by our existing blog and Facebook page and our organizational philosophy, I was asked by Dee and Julia a few months ago if the organization I co-founded and work for, Le lion et la souris (The Lion and The Mouse), would write some guest posts for Calgary Child’s Play’s new blog. My colleagues and I were thrilled to get involved. We are huge advocates of play, making it the centre of all of our programming and community organizing. CCP is too, as is clear from conversations with Dee, Julia, and numerous other staff. One example that strikes me is that CCP is one of the few organizations in Canada that calls its “care workers” “Playworkers”, a small, but important distinction: seeing staff members as playworkers means encouraging staff to strive to “enable children to extend their own play and they protect and enhance the play space so that it is a rich play environment” (Play Wales).
Play, to playworkers at least, is defined as play that is ‘freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated’ (PlayEd 1982). This is often called “free play” or “unstructured play”, but by definition, all play should be “free” and “unstructured”. The U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child recognized long ago not only the value of but also the right to play. Much academic research– and anecdotal evidence- shows that play increases cognitive functioning, independent thinking, self-regulation, social skills, physical activity levels, and overall well-being. Most importantly, however, play for the sake of play itself is fun and 100% necessary for all of us. As our friends over at Pop-Up Adventure Play said, “Play is play. Learning is incidental.”
Currently in Canada the value of and need for play is not fully heard. Kids in school are required to sit for long periods of time, standardized tests are abound, and in general, Canadian kids’ lives are increasingly adult-led, over-scheduled, and screen-filled. We got a D on the most recent Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth from Participaction. Thankfully, things are changing. Calgary is set to host the International Play Association’s 2017 world conference, and is one of the few Canadian cities to be developing a city-wide Play Policy. This summer, they hosted a number of Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds and are working hard to bring more natural additions and loose parts into their public spaces. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but through working together, with our friends and allies across Canada and around the world, I’m confident that how we see children – and their inherent right to play – will continue to shift. For now, we will celebrate the small things – exchanging ideas and communicating with parents and community members on our experiences in play, online or in person.
Thanks again to Calgary Child’s Play for inviting us to blog with them, and for joining us as allies in support of play. We look forward to our monthly blog posts (look for them on the 7th of every month!) and future collaborations. September’s post will be all about loose parts and CCP staffers’ reflections on their visit to The Lion and The Mouse in August. Have a playful end of summer!
All photos courtesy of Alana Riley, our awesome volunteer photographer! Check out her work here!