Play in a changing world

Dr. Thomas Tang, GIFT’s Executive Director, participated in the 17th International Play Association Conference held in Hong Kong on 11th January 2008 as a moderator for a plenary session on “Play and Human Development”.

The importance of play in child development has long been recognized. According to the International Play Association, play “makes possible maximum development of self and society by facilitating creativity, individuality and, social, physical and intellectual growth.” Backed by scientific evidence, there is no doubt that children growing up with opportunities for play tend to become better balanced emotionally and intellectually – the “whole child” actualisation.

Sadly, not all children enjoy this. Poverty, conflict, natural disasters and social stresses all contribute to deprive children of access to this activity. GIFT in its 2005 report, “Shaping the Future” on setting up a children’s commission for Hong Kong, highlighted play as one of the basic rights of children according to Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children. In the report, based on a study to investigate the daily play activity level of young Hong Kong children using a pedometer to measure the number of steps taken by individuals, it was noted that if this group was typical of Hong Kong children, compared to guidelines provided by the World Health Organisation for healthy development, Hong Kong measures 25 to 60 % below the recommended levels. Other examples of the lack of play to stimulate the young were covered in GIFT’s report along with concerns on children’s rights in general. (“Shaping the Future” was presented last year in September at the International Forum for Children organized by UNICEF and the Women’s Federation held in Shanghai).

In the Play and Human Development plenary session, there were overseas presentations on the subjects of with organized sport for children and pre-adolescents, play and real fight in school playgrounds and evidence-based approaches to teen play needs.

In the dynamic interaction with the audience in the Q&A that followed, participants were treated to a number of insights from overseas experience sharing on play development from differing perspectives. Acknowledged was the universal need for children to play but also importantly how play became an important breeding ground for social and psychological formation of young character which would later determine the contributions of individuals in adult life. Deeper understanding of the influence of play and how it can be applied to societies of the future is vital.