For East African Playgrounds, having a theoretical background to our work is as important as continual monitoring and evaluation of the programme. 

Children go through a tremendous and rapid development in a variety of areas during childhood. Their growth is promoted and enhanced by stimulation from their environment. Play is a significant way for them to learn and develop.


Outcomes of play

Although play is part of the UN’s Rights of a Child, it is often a right that is overlooked, and seen as an activity children take part in just to pass the time. Multiple long-term studies have shown how important play is for the development of children and their long-term outcomes, especially those living in poverty (Gertler et al, 2013; Kellock, 2015; Schweinhart et al, 2005; Walker et al, 2011). Play has been shown to be beneficial for everything from social skills, cognitive abilities and problem solving, to fine motor skills, concentration, communication, imagination, and self-control. It’s been shown that adding play to a child’s life can lead to significantly raised IQs, greater achievement at school and even higher rates of employment and wages in adulthood (Kellock, 2015). 

Two children playing in a tyre


Importance of Playgrounds

As a fixed asset in the community, a playground symbolises, promotes and reinforces the importance of childhood. A playground offers children the space to make sense of any problems they might be facing, through role play and imaginative games. We believe that a playground is a positive asset for any community, accommodating an array of opportunities in terms of child development and community cohesion. Play has the potential not only to transform the lives of individual children, but also to contribute to the social and economic development of communities (Gertler, et al, 2012). With such a large youth population, educational facilities in Uganda are overcrowded, teachers overworked, and schools underfunded. Furthermore, the rote education pedagogy found in most classrooms leaves little room in a child’s day for free, unmediated play. (UNICEF, 2012)

Play in nature

Science supports the importance of play with humans being some of the most neotenous of all creatures, meaning that much of our brain development happens not within the insulated womb, but out in the colorful, exciting, and often harsh, wider world (Walter, 2013). Play is such a powerful stimuli to activating synapse building because it is full-contact, multi-sensory learning, requiring communication to be passed and connections made between diverse sections of the brain (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013). 

The face that animals engage in the seemingly meaningless act of play suggests that play is not a superfluous pastime born of luxury, but rather an essential function in much animal and human life.

Developmental benefits

Research has shown immense impact of play for future development of an individual, relating play deprivation to mental health problems, poor economic income, lack of social skills and basic survival skills. A study untaken in the 1980s in Jamaica (Gertler et al, 2014) by a group of community health workers showed that the group exposed to regular play opportunities scored higher in socio-emotional skills like self-confidence, cooperation, and work ethic. They also experienced significant economic gains with earnings 28-60% higher than those of their control group peers.

Robert Wood John Foundation’s (2010) research showed that time spent on recreational activities correlates with academic results and Pellegrini (2005) showed that children are more focused on their schoolwork after play breaks, where children can have social interaction being free from adult intervention. Physical play lets children learn about their environment and surrounding and try to make sense of them in their own ways (Bateson, 2005), and in time of conflict, play gives a space where children can feel sense of hope and order (UNICEF, 2004).

Two children drumming

Relevance in Uganda

Uganda’s lush, rolling green landscape provides the perfect natural environment for children to explore, climb, and imagine. However, as Uganda races toward urbanization, with the third highest urban growth rate in the world, safe spaces for children to play are in fast decline. This is a severe threat for a country with the second-highest fertility rate in the world and half of the population made up of children under the age of eighteen. While over 90% of children are enrolled in primary school, such a large youth population leaves classrooms overcrowded, teachers overworked, and schools underfunded. Furthermore, the rote education pedagogy found in most classrooms, a remnant of Uganda’s colonial heritage leaves little room in a child’s day for free, unmediated play. (UNICEF, 2012)

Play give children their childhoods

With thanks to Elizabeth Moreno and Yoko Kitagawa for putting this piece together.


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