When Adult Perceptions of Risk Result in Real Bans on Children’s Play

By September 19, 2017newer posts no image

Written by: Marlene Power, Executive Director, Child and Nature Alliance of Canada


Remove rocks, trees and hills. Decrease recess and lunchtime allocated, and definitely don’t allow children out in the rain, heat or cold. Increase structured programming in the critical hours of after school and on the weekend. Increase academic pressures at increasingly early ages.  Ban sledding, climbing, running, holding sticks or dirt, and playing on the only play structure on the school ground in case of snow or ice, (which in many parts of Canada, is about half of the school year).

According to the Government of Canada (2011) “between 1978 and 2004, rates of measured obesity almost tripled among Canadian children and youth” (p. 21). Additionally, “the incidence of mental health difficulties and illnesses among children is predicted to increase by 50% by the year 2020” (p. 27). Increasingly, we are pushing an adult aesthetic, as well as our unfounded and perceived fears onto childhood. And we are shaking our heads wondering why children struggle in school? Why aren’t they engaged inside and outside the classroom? Why they’re online and using their tablets whenever they can? They’re bored, and it’s our fault.

Today, an article in the Ottawa Citizen http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/northern-ontario-school-set-to-ban-cartwheels highlighted one Ontario school board’s attempt to develop a ‘handbook of playground rules for the 2017-18 school year’. In the wake of the 2017 International Play Association Triennial Conference hosted by the City of Calgary last week, I would like to call upon school boards to question the impact of arbitrary bans that limit children’s opportunity and right to play. Bans that have been developed without balancing children’s right to play have detrimental impacts on children across Canada. Children, when deprived of stimulating play environments, do not thrive.

What we can do:

1.Educate yourself on Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states:

a) “that every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

b) That member governments shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”

2. Develop “Play Policies” rather than “Handbook’s of Playground Rules” that support play within schools, rather than limit them.

3. Connect with an organization such as the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada to learn more about managing and assessing risk in children’s play, and how a more balanced approach can support learning and play outcomes

4. Look at the world from a child’s perspective, ask them, “What is important to you on this school ground? How can you keep yourself and others safe?

5. Start talking to children about ALL THE THINGS THEY ARE ALLOWED TO DO! Imagine. Just imagine.

6. Speak up about your child[ren] or classroom’s or school’s right to play. It helps, the more play is seen and valued the less we’ll ban childhood of these rights.


Government of Canada. [2011]. The Well-Being of Canada’s Young Children. Retrieved from website: http://www.dpe-agje-ecd-elcc.ca/eng/ecd/well-being/sp_1027_04_12_eng.pdf


Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • open says:

    Grеat delivery. Outstanding arguments. Keep up the amazing work.

  • Gisela Arizabaleta Moreno says:

    Buen día, escribo porque estoy interesada en poder capacitarme como educadora al Aire Libre con niños de preescolar.

  • Tim says:

    As long as we always remember to listen, understand and encourage but never ‘force’ play. Every child, woman and man has a right to enjoy life but we are still a society we all still have an obligation to.
    Unfortunately the drive today is money and ‘individual’ enjoyment (success) and that is what lead us down this path. That’s what kids see and experience no matter what we try to say or teach them. They don’t witness often enough adults around them giving back, spending those extra often precious moments giving! And our schools and many teachers (just mimicking the rest of the work world) where and with whom our children spend the better part of their cognitive learning lives have fallen into the money rut. Time is money, and with that “we can’t go wasting that time playing”.
    Sorry for turning this comment into more of a soap box! I could easily write a novel, just not well (highschool English fail)!

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