The right to food and shelter. The right to be safe. The right to happiness. These are fundamental rights for Canadians, and certainly for our kids. But did you know that Canada’s children have the unalienable right to play and participate in Alberta’s cultural life?
November 20 marks National Child Day in Canada, celebrating the signing of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. In both those documents, the child’s right to play, enjoy leisure time and recreational activities are clearly identified. The right to play stands side by side with the right to be safe and the right to express their views about things that affect them. Because like those other rights, the right to be free to play and enjoy life is fundamental to the healthy development of human beings.
Active play time on decline
You wouldn’t think that children would need a protected right to play. They do it all the time, right? Well, yes and no. Of course children play, but the number of hours children are playing actively is on the decline. Canadian parents of kids 5-19 have reported that, while about 75 per cent of their children participate in organized sport, children 5-11 get only around 4 hours of active play outside of that. Over the past decade, the proportion of Canadian kids who play outside after school has dropped by 14 per cent.
There could be a number of reasons why we’re seeing a drop in activity levels; increased access to technology (particularly screens), lack of free time (in some cases as a result of participating in sports), or even parents feeling that their neighbourhood isn’t safe enough to let their children walk home from school or play on the playground by themselves. These barriers to play prevent many of our children from getting the full benefit of playing. The barriers aren’t “owned” by a single group either; they exist across our society, and, like protection from discrimination or right to an identity, we are all responsible for the solutions. The protection of the right to play is as important as the protection of any other right.
Exercise the Right to Play
But if you don’t use it, you could lose it. By exercising the right to play (pun totally intended), you are helping ensure continued support of the facilities and programs that make play possible. Canada (Alberta included) actually has a pretty great physical activity infrastructure and a number of programs already in place (and everyone KNOWS they should be more active), but if people aren’t using facilities like playgrounds, is there a need to keep investing in them? After all, why spend the money if no one uses it?
Second, we need to be looking at the entire picture, particularly with regards to how changes in our communities, technology, economy and social policy affect our children. They are all connected, and the impacts of all of those, individually and as a whole, can resonate for generations.
So not only is the right to play important for the healthy development of our children, exercising that right is important to the future of their children.