Play Poverty: 43 Reasons We Must Fight It

By Neve Spicer

Play involves imagination, creativity, and innovation. For young people, it is both fun and essential. They need play in order to flex, stretch, and grow their muscles; not only their physical ones, but also the emotional, cognitive, and imaginative muscles of their minds.

But here’s the thing…

We are seeing a global increase in play poverty. Too many children are bereft of time and opportunity to play.

We see this in developing countries where there is little to no investment in play infrastructure (ie, no playgrounds in schools or community areas), but we also see it in wealthy countries where the culture views play as disposable; a non-essential distraction from more serious academic activities. This occurs in kindergarten, in elementary school, and in high school, where recess time is routinely dropped. Even after school, when children once played, many parents are arranging extra classes and organized activities instead.

Sir Ken Robinson, an expert in child education and the man behind TEDs most watched talk, describes this situation as “a disaster“.

In case you are in any doubt about how important it is that we fight play poverty, here are 43 science-backed benefits that playtime brings our children:

So what can we do to fight play poverty?

We can support communities around the world who lack resources, to design and build imaginative playgrounds using local materials and labor. We can also encourage a move away from rote learning to pedagogical best practice, including play based learning. 

In our schools, we can make the case for play. Let’s get our voices heard in a bid to affect both local school policy and national education policy. Play shouldn’t be seen an a non-essential luxury. It must be viewed as vital and necessary to our children’s wellbeing and healthy growth, on every level.

At home, we can prioritize play in our child’s day and week. While enrolling our kids in a selection of extracurricular activities can be enriching, it’s important to balance this with plenty of time for free play; that is, the unstructured, self-directed play that children get up to when adults and screens take a back seat.

Let’s always remember: play is healthy, play is fun, and play is cathartic. Let’s protect and promote it as the birthright of every child.

Neve Spicer
Founder & Director

Global Play Alliance Statement

This statement is put forth to set a standard of professionalism with regards to the quality of work expected from those international play-based organisations associated in any way with the Play Alliance and should be read in conjunction with the Playground Ideas Terms of Use.

What is the Play Alliance?

The Play Alliance is a network of organisations focused on creating play opportunities for children in communities where these resources do not exist or are in short supply.
The Play Alliance commits to goodwill cooperation and open-source sharing of their time, ideas, resources and knowledge with other members of the Alliance to give more children access to play opportunities around the world

What is ‘play’?

We refer to ‘play’ as behaviours that:

  • 1. are intrinsically motivated, or done for their own sake;
  • 2. are non-literal, where behaviours do not have their normal or “literal” meaning;
  • 3. show positive effect, such as laughter and other emotions;
  • 4. are flexible, varying in form and content; and
  • 5. demonstrate the child being more interested in the performance of the behaviour than in its outcome (for further review please see Smith, 2010).

Based on the above, most behaviours have the potential to be classified as play. However, there are established types of behaviours that most will agree are play (see Smith, 2010):

  • ● Social Contingency Play: Refers to activities such as “peek-a-boo” where there is enjoyment in the response of others.
  • ● Sensorimotor Play: Refers to activities with objects (or one’s own body) that are based on the sensory properties of the objects; for example sucking, banging blocks or dropping blocks repeatedly.
  • ● Object Play: Children take part in a lot of activities with objects, much of this being construction play. Fitting Lego blocks together, making block towers, using modelling clay, pouring water from one container to another, etc.
  • ● Language Play: Children can play with noises, syllables, words and phrases. This can be a kind of babbling, rhyming couplets, or repetitive statements, in a non-literal sense.
  • ● Physical Activity Play: In general, this refers to gross bodily movements. Exercise play is the main form e.g, running, jumping, crawling, climbing and so forth. This includes ‘Rough and Tumble’ play, a form of vigorous social play, involving grappling, wrestling, kicking chasing and other behaviours that may be seen as aggressive in a non-playful context.
  • ● Fantasy or Pretend Play: This includes actions, or vocalisations and non-literal use of objects

Our values

We value children’s need to play. For a healthy life, a child MUST have time and space to play. Adults are responsible for creating that space because children cannot create it on their own. In so doing, we value the rights of the child to play as they see fit within their family, community and culture.

We value play in education. Play is a child’s natural tool for learning in social groups and alone, assisting the child to learn in all areas of the curriculum. In play, children have the opportunity to evaluate and synthesise all learning into their lives. What is learned is culturally specific and valued. This requires that a child must be given regular time in their formal and pre-formal education for unstructured free play.

Play for all children. Play spaces are required to be inclusive of every child without discrimination. Although no one playground element can cater to every child’s needs, the whole playground should be designed with the needs of a diverse range of children’s abilities and timing of development in mind. The space should be stimulating, enjoyable and challenging, regardless of special mental and physical needs, size, gender, class or age.

Encouragement of cultural diversity. Play spaces should reflect the community in which they sit. They should be bespoke in their design, based on community feedback and desires. They are a representation of how adults and children within specific communities value their time during play and thus will look very different in different places.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. We strive to uphold the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Articles therein that outline the Internationally agreed upon statements (1-54) for the roles of adults and governments to ensure the safety and freedom of children, globally. (

Child safety. Child safety is paramount. Rates of death and injury of children are much higher in the developing world. Children’s play spaces should conform to local standards/guidelines, and at all times and should be designed in a way to reduce the possibility of serious injury while maintaining a stimulating and challenging environment.
Global safety standards are available here, and Playground Ideas’ free, downloadable basic safety handbook is available for registered Users here. Creating a safe play-space may reduce the instance of child injury by preventing children from playing in unsafe places such as on roads or industrial areas.

Child protection. We believe that all children have the right to protection from abuse and exploitation, and ensure that all of our interactions with children, as well as all of the staff and volunteers who work with them, are committed to upholding these rights.

How we work with communities. Because of social inequities and the positive and negative stigmas our world has put on certain people from certain places, it matters how we communicate. A consciousness of the power imbalances and stereotypes and the desire to shift these is essential in creating lasting responsible partnerships cross-culturally. Therefore, we view ourselves as the provider of tools and resources that local community members can utilise to build play spaces in ways that reflect their needs, desires, and beliefs on child and community development. Community consultation processes are available from Playground Ideas website handbooks.

Sustainability. Sustainability is more than just having the money, time or the ability to maintain a project; it includes ensuring the project has strong initial demand and ownership from the community as well. By working with local communities, a sense of pride and accomplishment will help ensure the upkeep and value of safe play spaces.

No agenda. We agree to assist communities to create places for children’s play needs with no agendas such as proselytisation, corporate, military or political interests. We stand firm in the belief that children’s needs should never be used to leverage other agendas.
We assist communities regardless of race religion or creed. Working for the health and development of children is a priority of people regardless of race, ethnicity, class or creed. Children deserve space and time to play regardless of race, ethnicity, class or creed. Therefore, we see value in bringing all people together to build playgrounds for all children without an intention of changing cultural or religious beliefs.

Play Project- Cottage by the Sea Queenscliff

A new innovative playground for children at our kids charity in Queenscliff Australia.
We would like to encompass loose parts with adventure playground type elements as well as some water play features and perhaps a more low stimulus sensory garden area.
We would like to allow for unstructured pretend play as well as collaborative play and solo play (sometimes they need quiet time).
So basically want to include; active, free, quiet, social, imaginative, creative, exploratory and natural play.
It would be great to have different levels as well some swinging, sliding, climbing, hanging, balancing and jumping items.

See link for developmental focus on play:

The Importance of Play by guest blogger- Evan Kidd

On the importance of play


by Dr Evan Kidd – The Australian National University

Play is a universal human activity. In all but the rarest of circumstances, children in every village, town, and city across the world engage in some form of play, whether it be pretending to be Batman in New York City or making dolls from natural materials in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. When a behaviour is common across cultures, it suggests that it might have an important function to our species. But to the casual observer play just seems to be something that kids do to pass the time. What benefits might play have?

It turns out that play is associated with many beneficial developmental outcomes, some of which are predictable and others not. For instance, most people would expect that physical play such as running and climbing leads to positive physical development, but not everyone realises that physical play is also crucial for brain development as well as being an excellent form of stress relief, leading to greater psychological health.

Play also appears to have social and cognitive benefits. Play is an excellent context in which children learn important social skills, such as peer interaction. When children have ‘play-dates’ they aren’t just having fun, they’re learning important socialising skills such as turn-taking in conversation, negotiation, and conflict resolution. No wonder play has been linked to important skills such as understanding other people’s thoughts and feelings, as well as children’s language development. Finally, play seems to be an important medium through which children can begin their long journey through formal education. Studies have shown that children who attend schools that have a play-based curriculum not only learn well, but enjoy ;learning too.

Play is a powerful activity, but because we mainly think of it as a childhood activity we often fail to realise how important it is. In fact, organisations in the Western world have become concerned about the decreasing lack of opportunities children have to play. The American Academy of Pediatrics links increases in depression and anxiety to a lack of unstructured playtime”, and recommends that children spend at least 60 minutes each day in open-ended play. This tendency to devalue play is by no means a problem limited to Western industrialised countries: the UN is currently preparing a General Comment on Article 31 – the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in response to a 2010 report by the International Play Association, which reported pervasive cross-cultural misunderstandings of the importance of play. It seems that we are underestimating the importance of play to children’s development.

We need to start treating play more seriously (but not too seriously!), both in the lives of our own children and those in countries where children do not have the kinds of privileges available to us. We will all be better off for it.

Playground Phone

Parsons Green

Unstructured playground

Loose Parts in Primary Schools: From Impossible to Possible

By Jeni Wilson

“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’

I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”

― Lewis Carroll

This blog is for teachers who believe hands on play, kinaesthetic learning, and student centred curriculum is fundamental to student learning. Loose parts have an important place in primary schools.

Do you want your students to be active, problem solvers and problem posers?

And do you understand the importance of curiosity, creativity and action-oriented learning?

Then this is for you.

Why are loose parts important in primary schools?

If you really believe that the impossible is possible, if you devote enough time and effort to it… then you can change the way you work in schools. Students can make many decisions for themselves that we sometimes routinely make for them. 

And if you are looking for opportunities to develop lifelong learning skills and dispositions without contriving contexts to do so, then read on. 

Enter loose parts play

One of the key benefits of loose parts play is the open-endedness and ability for the students to be self-directed. The buzz words student voice and agency are naturally integral. 

And learning to learn skills and dispositions such as thinking, cooperative learning, problem solving, negotiation, conflict resolution and resilience are inherent when using loose parts play in classrooms and beyond. 

Sound impossible?

Well, there are so many opportunities in primary schools for students to construct and reconstruct, design, invention and reinvention, and to be creative when using loose parts

Loose parts play is great for:

  • Unstructured, open-ended play during class time to improve student well being;
  • As a context for student-centred/led activities;
  • Adding value to a playground or play area for students to use at break times;

Enter the Nüdel Kart

The Nüdel Kart is the ultimate ready-made, research based loose parts kit

It is a mobile playground, a kart that explodes into more than 200 pieces, and is filled with loose parts that children can manipulate, build and play with. It has been designed for 3 yrs to 12 yrs, is not gender or culture specific, and is highly supportive to people of all abilities.

And it can be packed up into an area less than a metre square.

The Nüdel Kart can be used inside or outside, alongside curriculum, or during break time, providing unlimited activities and stress relief for all students.

The Nüdel Kart can be used:

  • – During inquiry tuning in tasks for immersion;
  • – For experimentation; 
  • – To explore different materials; 
  • – For specific engineering tasks;
  • – To make a simple machine;
  • – Or make a tower, bridge, town, borough, city, shelter;
  • – To design a café and be a waiter;
  • – To explore physics, eg to make ramps, force;
  • – As part of mathematics, eg informal measurements, trading and comparisons;
  • – For sorting and classification;
  • – To learn about shapes;
  • – As part of role play tasks across the curriculum;
  • – As a context for practising skills such as team work and collaboration;
  • – For problem solving challenges;
  • – To play theatre games;
  • – For skills workshops/practise; 
  • – To show learning through play;
  • – For students to use their imagination;
  • – To be creative and develop resilience;
  • – To develop oral language;
  • – For help children learn to be ‘citizens’;
  • – As props for performance;
  • – To facilitate communication between mixed groups of children;
  • – To develop a relationship between students and teachers; or
  • – Just for fun!

See the Nüdel Kart Manual for many more ideas.

Designed to meet world wide and whole child learning priorities, Nüdel Kart supports educational approaches that aim to develop skills increasingly in demand in our rapidly changing world in disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEaM).

Nüdel Kart unpacked
Nüdel Kart packed up

Sewell, C. Wilson, J. Laing, B. and Veerman, M. (2020) Nudel Kart Teachers Manual (2020)

Wilson, J. and Wing Jan, L. Focus on Inquiry (second edition). Education Services Australia, Carlton South.