Play is the universal language of a child.

 

Play is incredibly important for children’s learning, wellbeing and for healthy brain development – the UN includes the right to play in its Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most complete statement of children’s rights ever produced.

 

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. 

 

But, in many communities across East Africa, children spend time out of school looking for work or helping with chores at home, rather than playing. Play is often viewed by adults as a waste of time, with little understanding of its importance for children. There are very few play facilities available for children, and those that do exist are often unsafe or poor quality.

 

When children are in school, large classes and lack of facilities mean that a system of ‘rote’ (repetition-based), ‘one size fits all’ teaching is used by teachers, which means that children are limited in self-expression and creativity. This is restricting and frustrating for children as these are an important part of their learning. A lack of funding means that most schools do not have play equipment, and play is not seen as a priority by teachers.