The International Play Association (IPA) held its tri-annual conference in Istanbul, Turkey from May 20-23, 2014. The conference brought together 355 participants from 40 countries. I was thrilled to be among the participants which included college professors, play practitioners, non-government (or nonprofit) organization representatives, and government officials.
The theme of the conference, Children’s Access to Play in Times of Crisis, was timely as the news from the recent mine catastrophe in Soma, Turkey, went from bad to worse while I was there.
There were two particularly powerful keynote presentations on play in time of crisis. A UNICEF representative spoke about how the lack of play led to the isolation, depression and victimization of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. The Mayor of Halabja, a Kurdish city in Iraq that was decimated by chemical warfare in 1988, spoke about how a new Adventure Playground brought hope to children and adults in his community. Both reinforced how important play was to the health development of children, as well as the development of communities.
There were also thought-provoking keynote presentations on the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and Title 31 (which states that children have the right to play and to pursue cultural activities), ground-breaking play policies in Wales, play and technology, and the importance of play in education. In addition to the keynote addresses, I attended workshops on playground development, play in education, and play in recreational environments. I was proud to be among the workshop presenters and to share the things Fairytale Town has been doing to promote play in our community. All of us – from the Czech Republic to Australia and the Netherlands to Beirut – noted that the entire community benefited from building playgrounds and developing play programs.
A random sampling of playful happenings in other places include:
- Ankara, Turkey has a Toy Library where families can check out toys and games for two-week periods.
- Well Played is a public awareness campaign in Holland to raise awareness that play in open spaces is productive time for children and not a nuisance. (Recent research shows that many adults think that children playing in open spaces are irritants.)
- Sand pools and mud pools are regular features in playgrounds across the globe. Many adventure playgrounds hold regular mud play days. In fact, international mud play day is June 29.
- Wales is on the cutting edge of play policy and implementation. They have a national play policy and each community has to conduct a play sufficiency assessment and improve delivery of play if warranted.
- Many play providers are facilitating play in open spaces such as parks, sports fields, public squares, streets and sidewalks, etc.
- Many playgrounds are using natural elements and loose parts for playgrounds so children can change the play environment regularly. Some are including children in design discussions on specific playgrounds.
It is always inspiring to go away from home and hear about the wonderful things people are doing from far-flung places. It’s also rewarding to come home – with the recognition the playful opportunities we offer at Fairytale Town are important to the development of children, families and our community.