Play as a fundamental human right

Like no other at UNGA we know about the value of play. Nothing is as natural as a child at play. After a month of little more than eating and sleeping, infants begin to engage in play with their parents and the world around them. Left alone, young children will launch into imaginary play, inventing characters and stories.

Did you know it is so important to the well-being of children that the United Nations recognizes it as a fundamental human right, on par with the rights to shelter and education. Yet today, play is something of an endangered activity among children. Children’s free, unscheduled playtime has been declining steadily over the past half- century. As even elementary schools come under greater and greater pressure to have their students score well on standardized tests, recess time has been increasingly cut. These changes have had lasting and negative effects on children. Over the same years that recess and playtime have declined, there have been rises in major depression, anxiety and  the suicide rate.

Parents and teachers cutting back on children’s playtime aren’t doing it to be mean— even if it might seem that way to children. They believe that in an increasingly competitive world, there’s less time for a kid to be a kid. They’re restricting playtime because they want their children to thrive. Play is, by definition, an activity that has little clear immediate function. That’s what separates it from work or education.

But scientists have learned that free play isn’t just something children like to do—it’s something they need to do. More than anything else, play teaches children how to work together and, at the same time, how to be alone. It teaches them how to be human.

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