Childhood is in crisis: How a movement for play can help

Sharing movement-building strategies to support children’s holistic development through play.

April 07, 2022 by Jodie Van Horn, Purpose
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6 minutes read
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Brazilian children engage in playful learning at Together for Play intervention, Favelas do Brincar, in Paraísopolis, São Paulo. Credit: Joao Neto
Brazilian children engage in playful learning at Together for Play intervention, Favelas do Brincar, in Paraísopolis, São Paulo.
Credit: Joao Neto

For many children across the globe, childhood is in crisis. According to UNICEF, an estimated 150 million more children have been driven into poverty since the start of the pandemic in 2020, a 10% increase from pre-COVID levels.

The pandemic forced 1.4 billion pre-school, primary, and secondary school students out of classrooms, and an estimated 616 million are still affected by full or partial school closures.

In addition to learning loss, the pandemic has negatively impacted children’s mental health and social connection, whilst at the same time exacerbating disparities and inequalities.

As a social impact organization, at Purpose we mobilize our expertise in campaigning and social change to shift policies and public narratives on issues that matter most. Ensuring children have access to a simple, universal and proven tool for enhanced well-being and long-term development is one of them. That tool is play.

Together with the LEGO Foundation, we’ve been on a mission since 2019 to get people to value play as a cornerstone of children’s development.

Playful learning gives children opportunities to feed their imaginations, negotiate relationships, strengthen their instincts, and discover ways to solve
the problems they encounter.

Play helps children develop a breadth of skills needed to thrive in our crisis-prone world, both in and out of the classroom, and gives them a better shot at growing into successful, resilient and happy adults.

Under the banner of Together for Play, we encourage parents and families to recognize the benefits of play, dedicate more time to play with their children; and demand more space and time for play to happen in their homes, communities, and in the classrooms.

We create localized experiences and provide a platform for governments to adopt and promote playful learning. And we convene a wide range of organizations to embrace play-based learning as part of their programs and initiatives, ensuring that the movement is built to last.

In 2021, Together for Play contributed to the growth of a play movement in three countries – Brazil, Colombia, and Rwanda – and this year we added South Africa.

By conducting multiple interventions in each country, we are testing and identifying the best ways to apply Purpose’s movement building methodologies to dramatically improve outcomes for children’s holistic development through play. Here are three lessons we are learning along the way.

Diagram of Together for Play impact methodology to drive systemic change for play-based learning, Purpose, 2020
Diagram of Together for Play impact methodology to drive systemic change for play-based learning, Purpose, 2020.

1. Collaboration within and outside the sector is key to build movements for playful learning

There are no movements without partnership. Movements require a diversity of people and organizations, who hold a shared vision and work together towards a common goal because no one group can do it alone, and the reach and power of a movement is vastly strengthened by combining the spheres of influence of different organizations and their constituencies.

From international NGOs to community-based service providers and government agencies, it’s all hands-on deck to promote playful learning.

In Colombia we partnered with the Ministry of Science on an original podcast to promote the development of science, innovation and technology through play, and in Brazil we found common cause with G10 Favelas, a group of leaders and social impact entrepreneurs working to advance social and economic progress in urban areas.

Together for Play is working to expand the ecosystem of partners, driving coordinated action across core countries.

Experience has taught us a few critical lessons about collaboration. First, understanding the landscape by taking the time to research and map the issue space, and then finding out where there’s a gap that needs to be filled, is critical to building a healthy ecosystem and defining your role in it. Don’t be afraid to reach beyond the obvious players. Like a Ministry of Science, even when you need to talk about playful learning.

Next, different organizations will always have their own agendas, but find common ground and focus on building collaboration around an intersection of mutual benefit.

Lastly, it is normal for organizations to have varying levels of participation and contribute differently. Just like people, partners need to be met where they’re at when invited to collaborate and given opportunities to contribute that play to their strengths.

2. Grow support by understanding your audience and their needs

An integral part of growing a powerful constituency is two-way communication with those you're trying to engage or influence.

There is tremendous evidence and literature demonstrating the effectiveness of play-based learning for children, however, most people do not have time to read the white papers. And many people are unaware of how play can contribute to academic success, while helping children develop other critical skills, such as the ability to forge connections and resolve conflicts.

Personal, contextualized, and collective stories can propel public action in powerful ways because they make complex or technical issues relatable and relevant. Together for Play has built awareness about the value of playful learning among our core audience, parents, and caregivers, by sharing stories and messages that tap into existing values and beliefs.

In Colombia, we asked parents to share their own stories about how their children fared in the pandemic, and we responded to their challenges by sending them video tutorials and activities to help them manage pandemic stress and anxiety through play.

Similarly, in Rwanda we reached approximately 1.5 million people (11.6% of the total population) in 2021 through social media by asking parents with large social media followings to create videos of themselves playing with their children. Their followers connected with the traditional games they had played as a child.

A parent who received information through our campaign emailed us, “I work in construction. Playing is very nice. I am a parent of two kids and I am super excited about this platform. It will give us the knowledge we need to raise our children for them to become successful and grow our family. Thank you very much.”

Colombian parents playing with their children at Together for Play (Súmate el Juego) socio-emotional learning workshop. Credit: Movilizatorio
Colombian parents playing with their children at Together for Play (Súmate el Juego) socio-emotional learning workshop.
Credit:
Movilizatorio

3. Unlock political action to accelerate and sustain change

Our Together for Play end-game is to successfully shape political outcomes and decisions that will give more children opportunities to learn through play. As we drive cultural expectations and amplify public demand for play, as well as strengthen ecosystems of partners to anchor and sustain the movement, we are creating the conditions for decision-makers to champion long-term structural and policy changes.

We work with the government, but we also work to push the government to be more concrete and more ambitious in addressing our issue.

In Brazil, where national law includes a child’s right to play, but local policy falls short in implementation, we are demonstrating to decision makers at the municipal level that there is public support for stronger local government intervention.

We are working closely with Aliança pela Infância, civil society organizations, and activists to push for the official establishment of World Play Week in city calendars around Brazil, which helps bring play to the center of discussions about city-level public policies that safeguard children’s basic constitutional rights.

Through our work, we have established groups in every region of Brazil to deliver the message that playful learning opportunities should have a place everywhere.

In Colombia, we will bring the voices of parents, caregivers, and even children, to rallies and roundtables and thus directly to candidates in the run-up to the 2022 national election. Our aim is for election candidates to publicly commit to a strong early childhood development agenda that incorporates play-based learning.

With the approaches above – partnerships, public engagement and advocacy – we aim to complement the important work of established organizations working in children’s development and education, while accelerating the pace of change so more children can access playful learning experiences.

We hope these approaches help you achieve your goals, whatever they may be, and we invite you to join and collaborate with us in growing a movement for play!

Learn more about the Together for Play Movement, or more about the methodology behind it on Purpose’s website.

Follow the movement on social medias:

This blog is also available in Spanish and Portuguese.

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Comments

I get it very informative

I love to school my children in bissau

Great article and so aligned to Play Healings Values. Would love to partner on future projects working with parents and governments.

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