Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have a right to play. However, in the UK and many other countries, time, space and opportunities for outside free play and playing out have actually been declining for many decades, eroded largely by increases in traffic and attitudinal changes. Funding cuts and reduced recognition of the importance of play within central government have compounded this.
The huge impact of this erosion on children’s health and wellbeing is only now beginning to be seen, with only one in five children getting the recommended daily physical activity they need to be well – that’s 80% of children not getting this – and 20% of children now leaving primary school obese. Children are also increasingly lacking opportunities to socialise outside of school in real life (not on-line), develop independence, problem solve and grow in resilience, as well as the enjoyment of free play with others.
This loss of children’s right to simply play out wherever they live – in streets, estates and open spaces, for free, on their doorstep, whether they are rich or poor – also impacts more on children living in social housing whose parents have little say over their own outside space (see this 2019 Guardian article ‘Too Poor to Play‘ where poorer children have been deliberately excluded from the formal play space) and on low income families with less ability to ‘compensate’ for this loss with paid-for activities or driving to other spaces. We wrote a letter to The Guardian to make this point in response to the article.
The answer – alongside creating a more child-friendly public realm – is to enshrine in law and policy and defend in practice all children’s right to play out where they live. Fortunately, there’s a growing international movement working towards this. In the UK, this includes many community-based organisations, local play associations and adventure playgrounds and a growing Playing Out network of parents and residents changing things for play where they live.
We at Playing Out CIC are also working on specific rights based projects, like the Bristol Child Friendly City initiative and the Safer Streets in Hartcliffe project led by children, where children’s voices and participation are key (as in this short film by children from the Hartcliffe Estate in south Bristol calling for more freedom and change). We’ve also been looking at parent led action to enable playing out on social housing tower block estates where barriers are more complex. And we’re increasingly speaking out and calling on local and national government to defend children’s right to play out.
Together, we can help change things for all children.