The Right to Play is Central to Childhood

The right to play is central to childhood

by Keith Towler, Children’s Commissioner for Wales


Little did I know seven years ago that play would form such an important part of my life as Commissioner. My journey on play began in my first few months in post. In fact, the first report I published as Commissioner was all about children with disabilities’ access to play. It was the culmination of a project which my predecessor had begun, analysing the content of local authorities’ play strategies and gathering the views of children and young people with disabilities.


Seven years on, I am still acutely aware of how important play is to children and young people. During my final year in post, I was lucky to be appointed to a working group assisting on the drafting of a general comment for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which wanted State Parties across the world to give greater attention to children’s rights to play and leisure activities in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Here in Wales and across the world, the publication of the General Comment on Article 31 provides an opportunity for every child in every school, in every community, to exercise the right to play. Whilst the rights embodied in Article 31 may not necessarily be at the forefront of policy makers’ minds, they are central to childhood itself. They contribute to the joy, fun and sheer pleasure of growing up. Furthermore, their implementation will contribute to children’s development, not only as individuals, but also as competent members of society aware of the perspectives of others, and capable of cooperation and conflict resolution.


Wales and the Welsh Government have taken great strides in promoting and implementing play as the right of every child and young person and are viewed very highly on the international stage. But I can’t help but think that whilst we have ground-breaking legislation here in Wales, it’s having little or no immediate impact on the ground for children and young people. By way of an example I’m going full circle, back to children and young people with disabilities’ access to play. The Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010 saw Wales become the first country in the world to establish a duty in relation to play. This Measure introduced a Play Sufficiency Duty, which comes in two parts: the first involves local authorities in carrying out Play Sufficiency Assessments. I reviewed them all, focussing in particular on children and young people from disadvantaged communities and households and on children and young people with disabilities. The provision of play and recreation opportunities for children and young people with disabilities, as reported in these Play Sufficiency Assessments, is diverse, with a number of local authorities even having difficulties identifying how many children and young people with disabilities resided within their authority. There is some wonderful work ongoing, with some authorities evidencing a framework of policy and practice firmly directed at delivering on Article 31 for children with disabilities. But, the picture remains inconsistent.


Austerity is also hitting us hard in Wales and is having a direct impact on the implementation of Article 31. One devastating example of the impact was shared with me via film by a group of young people in rural west Wales. It told the story, a true story, of how a new housing development destroyed a play space. The play area was a muddy bank. A piece of land used by children and young people extensively. At no point during the planning process for this new housing development did anybody consult with children and young people. The new housing has no play provision as part of the development and the one area that children used has been flattened by bulldozers and built over. The film is powerful and demonstrates that these children and young people should have had a say in the planning process and they should have been heard.


The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is embedded in Welsh law. This ‘ground-breaking’ legislation, was meant to ‘make a positive change to the way in which all support and services for children and young people in Wales will be designed and delivered in the future’. This legislative measure provides me with the framework to hold adults to account if children report a limiting of play opportunities. Wales has made a bold and positive commitment. Let’s make sure legislation made in Wales and across Europe makes a practical, positive difference to each and every child, whatever their circumstance.


Keith Towler, the current Children’s Commissioner for Wales, is a respected children’s rights expert with over 25 years’ experience in social work, youth work and youth justice roles. Keith is also a  member of the International Play Association (IPA) and was asked by the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child to take a lead role in helping to draft the General Comment on Article 31 (the right to play). Keith’s term as Wales’ Children’s Commissioner concludes at the end of February 2015. Professor Sally Holland from Cardiff University will take up the role on 20 April 2015.

Jan van Gils poses a question at the IPA Scotland symposium

Take it easy… rest, play and creativity

Take it easy… rest, play and creativity (accompanied by a toast to boredom)

“Boredom is something wonderful” I heard the speaker say. The prevailing winds usually blow us towards active, engaged, purposeful so idling in rest, daydreams and boredom seemed very enticing and just a wee bit baffling.

I looked around the audience and we all seemed to be realising that we were being allowed into a different conversational space. Jan van Gils, our keynote speaker is a past-President of IPA and much respected advocate and researcher. Jan began by saying the theme of ‘rest, play and creativity’ was actually quite challenging.

“Where does play start and where does play end?” he asked. “Do you know? Do children know?”

He told us a story of children playing; play which was filled with frustration, conflict, noise, support, teasing and solidarity as much as, if not more then, some notion of fun. Play shouldn’t be reduced to some “romantic notion” but is broad and undefined and about freedom (though there are limitations on that freedom).

Storyteller Andy Cannon brings back memories of play
Storyteller Andy Cannon brings back memories of play

In the seminar’s theme of rest, play and creativity, rest was at the centre of the discussion. Drawing on the words of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, we were interested in why ‘children should have time to fill as actively or inactively as they choose’.

There was no argument that children need sufficient sleep, that when we sleep our brains are doing some incredibly important things and that enormous creativity is at work. There was however a sense of having to grapple with a problem around what to do about ‘down time’, time to do ‘nothing’, time for children to be aimless, apparently without activity or purpose.

Most of the people in the room were working for or with children and many in childcare settings (nursery, out of school and holiday provision etc.) How could they ensure that opportunities for rest, day dreaming, doing ‘nothing’ were as valued as an atmosphere of busy activity? Much discussion took place around the role of adults (to entertain? to stimulate? to facilitate?); the expectations of parents who have paid for care (what has my child achieved?); and the physical spaces children spend time in, perhaps not through their own choice (often schools, classrooms, halls and not, frankly, spaces highly suited to play).

But boredom – how do we get to a point where we say like Jan did: boredom is something wonderful?

In many parts of the world it is now so easy for children to find entertainment via gadgets and screens. The first hint of boredom leads not to a period of physical and mental discomfort (boredom was described by my son as ‘my head and body feeling scratchy’) followed by a search for an idea or companion. It leads to switching on a bit of technology opening an immersive, technicoloured world – problem solved! Adults also seem to have so absorbed a message that children should be constantly active and engaged that, in the absence of a gadget, the adult assumes responsibility for relieving the boredom, finding something ‘to do’.

As Jan observed: “we have a lot of problems with boredom, that it is negative, that it is no good”.

However he also gave us an alternative to the negative perception; that is, “doesn’t know what to do” is really “doesn’t yet know what to do”. With boredom comes possibility.

The wonderful part of boredom is the opportunity it creates to discover what we want to do, to find out where our feet will take us, to simply see what happens, to search, decide or daydream, to let the mind wander. Boredom makes it possible to find these things out.

I decided to try this out on my wee boy when he mooches over, bored, when the Wi-Fi is switched off, with complaints of being bored. I’ve told him about Jan’s speech and he agrees, in theory, saying if he didn’t get to rest his “head would go kaput”.

“Mum, I’m bored” he says.

“That’s great!” I say with my biggest congratulatory smile and turn back to whatever I am up to.


Theresa Casey

President, International Play Association: Promoting the Child’s Right to Play.

Member of IPA Scotland




Jan van Gils was President of IPA from 1999-2005. He is the founder and President of the European Child Friendly Cities Network ECFCN) and President of International Council for Children’s Play (ICCP). Jan was a member of the IPA-led core group preparing the UN General Comment on article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (2013).


Jan spoke at a seminar celebrating the 21st anniversary of the Scotland Branch of IPA. ‘Take it easy… rest, play and creativity’ was organised by IPA Scotland and the Richer Understanding Group in partnership with Edinburgh College.

IPA Scotland celebrates its 21st Anniversary!
IPA Scotland celebrates its 21st Anniversary!


Scotland's Children's Commissioner Tam Baillie
Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner Tam Baillie

A Richer Understanding Group (ARUG) is an informal group of organisations in Scotland which focuses on children’s rights under article 31 of the UNCRC: the rights to rest, leisure, play, recreation and participation in cultural life and the arts. ARUG was formed in response to the UN General Comment on article 31 which sets out that each element of article 31 is mutually linked and reinforced, and when realised, serves to enrich the lives of children. ARUG is currently made up of representatives from IPA Scotland, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), Creative Scotland, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Gallery of Modern Art/GlasgowLife, Scottish Out of School Care Network and Starcatchers.

IPA Scotland is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) (SC026909)

1924 - 2015

Brian Sutton-Smith 1924 – 7 March 2015

It was with great sadness that we learned today of the passing of Brian Sutton-Smith, play theorist extraordinaire and author of countless books and articles. Perhaps most notably, he wrote The Ambiguity of Play, which surely sits on the shelves of most of those engaged in the world of play.  The picture above is from his video interview with Frazer Brown that was shown at the IPA World Conference in Cardiff, Wales in 2011.

Please post any memories you have of Professor Sutton-Smith or help us compile a list of links to his work, such as: The Ambiguity of Play

(Click on the post’s title to leave comments.)

Children play jump rope in South Sudanese IDP camp

Is South Sudan About to Ratify the CRC?

26 January 2016 – In an email to IPA received this morning,  the Communications Officer for UNICEF South Sudan in Juba says it is possible that South Sudan has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but it is unclear at this point. They have been told that Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the country since it declared independence in 2011, has signed the treaty thus ratifying it. They are awaiting confirmation from the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

If South Sudan ratifies the UNCRC, the United States will remain the lone country in the world to have not ratified the treaty.

– Cynthia Gentry, IPA Communications Officer

Berlin: Symposium on Play is a Child’s Right- Strategies for the Future of Our Society

15 January 2015  Berlin

Symposium photo

Fachtagung „Spielen ist Kinderrecht – Strategien für die Zukunft der Gesellschaft“, 15.Januar 2015 in Berlin

Das Deutsche Kinderhilfswerk veranstaltet zusammen mit dem Bündnis Recht auf Spiel, der deutschen IPA-Sektion und der National Coalition am 15.Januar in Berlin eine Tagung zum General Comment Nr. 17 zu Art. 31 der UN-Kinderrechtskonvention, Recht auf Spiel.

Ziel der Fachtagung 2015 „Spielen ist Kinderrecht – Strategien für die Zukunft der Gesellschaft” ist es, bereits entwickelte allgemeine Problemfelder und Thesen zu modifizieren und konkrete, insbesondere an die Politik und Verwaltung gerichtete Handlungsforderungen auszuarbeiten. Die Veranstaltung soll Teilnehmer/innen aus Wirtschaft, Politik und Wissenschaft und Verwaltungs- und Steuerungspositionen zusammenbringen. Kinderrechts- und Spielraumexpert/innen, Wirtschafts-, Ärzte- und Umweltverbände sollen konkrete Handlungsempfehlungen zur besseren Umsetzung und Implementierung des Rechtes auf Spiel, Freizeit, Erholung und kulturelle Teilhabe in Deutschland entwickeln. Nähere Informationen zur Veranstaltung, Anmeldung und Hintergrundinformationen findet man über .

Für alle IPA Deutschland Mitglieder wird auch ein Informationsstand zur Verfügung stehen, an dem man sich Treffen und austauschen kann. Ein separates Mitgliedertreffen wird im Anschluss der Hauptveranstaltung stattfinden. Wenn sie am Mitgliedertreffen teilnehmen möchten melden sie sich bitte bei Gregor H. Mews

Symposium „Play is a children‘s right- strategies for the future of our society“, 15th January 2015 in Berlin

The Deutsche Kinderhilfswerk is organising in collaboration with the alliance right to play, the German IPA section and the national coalition a Symposium on the 15th January in Berlin, Germany. The main topic will be the General Comment Nr. 17 to Article 31 of the UN-Convention of the Rights of the Child – Right to play. The aim of the Symposium will be to modify and specify the already identified issues and to discuss the urgent need for action specifically directed towards politics and governments. The event brings together representatives from business, politics, science, governments and taxation. Children’s right and play space experts, business-,medical- and environmental associations shall develop recommendation for concrete actions in order to improve and implement the right to play, rest, leisure and recreation and to take part in cultural and artistic activities in Germany. Further information can be obtained under the following link

For all IPA Germany members there will be an information desk available and an opportunity to participate in a special meeting towards the end of the program. Should you wish to participate in the meeting please contact Gregor H. Mews



TO DOWNLOAD FLYER:  Flyer_Spielraumtagung_Web


Geneva, "Centre of Gravity" for Children's Rights

On the Occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

by Theresa Casey, President, International Play Association

There is a special relationship between children’s rights and Geneva – described as ‘the centre of gravity for children’s rights’ – so I was honoured to be there on the 20th November 2014, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

An impressive array of NGOs, UN agencies and honoured guests gathered together in the Palais de Wilson, home of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, to mark the occasion, organised by Child Rights Connect and UNICEF. We heard from a number of speakers whose words suggested common threads: that progress has been made, particularly in a shift from focussing on children’s needs to the responsibility to uphold children’s rights.

Right to left: Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR; Jorge Cardona Llorens, member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child; Anne-Sophie Lois, president, Child Rights Connect


Palais de Wilson-sm
Gathering at the Palais de Wilson

Nigel Cantwell, one of the people originally involved in drafting the Convention, highlighted that it was when the human rights bodies and the children’s NGOs came together that considerable progress and momentum was created (up until then there had been a slow start). Cantwell urged us to reinvigorate the understanding that children’s rights aren’t separate and special – they are human rights. The historical insight was very interesting given IPA’s acknowledged role at the time of drafting in ensuring play was included in the Convention. Now, a Convention of Children’s Rights without play is unthinkable.

Flavia Pansieri, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, also drew attention to children’s rights within the domain of human rights when she remarked on recent Resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council pertaining to children. I was delighted to hear her draw special attention to the Resolution on children’s right to play and her comment:

“It is very important – children are children after all.”

Her words echoed those of IPA in the work we have done on the path towards a General Comment on article 31 (the right to play) when above all we have emphasised that children have a right to enjoy their childhood.

I was lucky to have a free day in Geneva to walk around and see the sights under a typically lucid blue Geneva sky, with the snow-tipped mountains in the background. It was a really nice chance to remember IPA days in Geneva over the last few years. Most of these memories involve Valerie Fronczek, IPA’s late Vice President, striding out purposefully always with a mission in mind – fun or food and a glass of red, and (always) a mission to persuade and engage.

IMG_0347C-sml-red poster

I remember sitting with Valerie and Jan van Gils (former IPA President) preparing to present directly to the UN Children’s committee in request of the General Comment. I sat next to Jean Zermatten, the Chair of the Committee, who passed along a box of sticky Middle Eastern sweets that promptly stuck to our teeth and made talking impossible – as if it wasn’t scary enough speaking to the Committee of experts and ranks of translators!

Valerie wasn’t able to be with us when IPA brought together our Working Group on the General Comment in 2012 but she would have been truly exhilarated as we worked together with the Committee’s focal group to finalise the GC wording. And she would have laughed at, but probably not have had much truck with, the amount of crying that went on the next day when it hit us that we were nearly there (Marilena Flores Martins and I being the weepiest).

And wow, we had a great celebration in Geneva, in 2013 to launch the General Comment itself. Although play people know how to enjoy themselves and are always in good company, it’s not always in such plush surroundings.

I was thinking about all of this as I strolled around Geneva on the 25th anniversary. One cannot sightsee on memories alone so I stopped for coffee and croissants. I had just sat down with my coffee when –and I swear this is true – ‘I’m on Top of the World’, the music from the IPA General Comment film, came on in the background. I’m not sure what the people sitting at the next tables thought when the woman sitting on her own looked up and smiled at everyone!

It was just such a lovely moment and made me think of all the times now I’ve seen people smiling, clapping and dancing along to the film, thanks to the vision of Cynthia Gentry (our Communications Officer) to reach out and capture the essence of what it’s all about.

Video thumbnail-ARABIC
IPA’s Video about the General Comment on a Child’s Right to Play

So for me, Geneva is a place where IPA imagined a goal that seemed almost impossible, set itself to work, and did it; where we worked really hard and laughed quite hard too; where we brought friends and colleagues together – some of them now ‘absent friends’ to whom we raise a silent toast. And Geneva is the place where this generation of IPA people, carried on what the previous generation of IPA achieved when they ensured that play was included in the Convention.

It was great to be in Geneva on the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It helped me to understand IPA’s place in the historic continuum on children’s rights. I’m very, very proud of IPA and what it does for children and their right to play.

IMG_0342UN DOC-sm



New IPA World Website

Hello and welcome to the new IPA World website. We will be adding and fixing links, addresses, contacts, branch information, and more in the coming weeks. When you stumble upon something that needs fixing or you think of something that should be on the site, please feel free to let us know at

It is our hope that the new website, along with our Facebook pages, YouTube presence, Twitter feeds, Pinterest pages and LinkedIn page, will all add up to a lively and engaging International Play Association: Promoting the Child’s Right to Play experience. Play is coming up in conversations all over the world and NOW is the time to make certain that children everywhere are free to have the play experiences they so richly deserve and need. So, tell us what you are up to. Share information about new initiatives at your IPA Branch. We want to hear about it and we want to share it!

The Importance of Access to Play in Situations of Crisis

18 June 2014

Re-Play for Play: Policy Makers’ Engagement Needed to Improve Play Opportunities Across Europe

23 September  2014