Play is what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests in their own way and for their own reasons (DCMS, 2004).

Play is fun! 

“Play is what I do when no-one is telling me what to do”

Play is freely chosen, personally directed, intrinsically motivated behaviour that actively engages the child. (Best Play, 2000)

Benefits of play:


The benefits of play are wide ranging from socialisation to helping with children’s development such as fine and gross motor skills, co-ordination, balance and reasoning, physical development, emotional wellbeing, identity, likes and dislikes, skills, the list is endless!

Despite all these known benefits, play is vital just for its own sake. It is important that it is recognised as such. Play is how children naturally explore and engage with their environment.  

“Playin’ out”

During the PlayBack Project we heard many people’s memories. The vast majority of the stories we heard were about play that took place outdoors, hardly anyone mentioned games they had played indoors. Another common theme was the lack of adult supervision to many of the recollections, it appears that in previous generations children were much more likely to play out, often for long periods at a time. Playing out all day was not uncommon, perhaps only coming home for dinner or ‘tea’.

Recollections often included risky or even illicit behaviour. We were told of games such as “knock a door run”, scrumping apples, even setting fire to drainpipes. Whilst we certainly don’t condone arson, it does appear that children have perhaps always engaged in challenging games that may be viewed as ‘naughty’ by adults and these games and behaviours are likely to be familiar to many. 

Another common theme was how people talked about a collective sense of supervision - the fear of being “told off” by a neighbour was often enough to ensure that these slightly illicit behaviours didn’t extend into unacceptable or criminal territory and meant that children felt safe to play knowing that people in the community were keeping an eye out for them. 

We know that in recent years children’s ability to roam has been increasingly restricted. We heard stories of children in the past roaming across Nottingham, even cycling to Derbyshire. Nowadays due to the impact of traffic and increased awareness of stranger danger children don’t have the same freedoms. Several people mentioned that they played out ‘cos it was safe in those days’.

Technology has opened up a whole new realm of opportunity for play, which can be positive in many ways. However, we still recognise the important role access to unstructured play in an open space has in children’s lives.

We invite you to pause and reflect on the differences between children’s play in the past to today, to bring a bit of the history into the present day. Whilst children have always had some restrictions on their lives, they are perhaps different now to those from the past. Children are far less able to play freely outside, and it is important to consider how we as adults can ensure children are able to enjoy some of the everyday freedoms that “playing out” can bring. Let the child climb that tree, let them make a mud pie, let them get messy, provide opportunities for children to make their own choices and learn from their own mistakes. 

Because we all need to play.

 Play is vital for healthy children and healthy societies. In fact it is recognised as such by The United Nations. 

 The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 31


  1. States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
  2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Playwork is…

Children often play instinctively. Play happens anywhere and everywhere. Playwork is the work of facilitating children’s play, that is creating and broadening children’s access to play opportunities. This often happens on adventure playgrounds, at out of school clubs and community play projects and is delivered by Playworkers or Playrangers. Good quality play projects can in some ways address the lack of opportunities to play that many children have. 


The Playwork sector in the UK has campaigned for children’s right to play to be recognised and prioritised within society.


Playwork Principles

The Playwork principles were developed by the Playwork sector in 2004. They were preceded by The Assumptions and Values of Playwork which were developed when drafting the Playwork National Vocational Qualifications in the early 1990’s.  


The Principles establish the professional and ethical framework for Playwork. The Principles describe what is unique about play and Playwork and provide the Playwork perspective for working with children and young people. They are based on the recognition that children and young people’s capacity for positive development will be enhanced if given access to the broadest range of environments and play opportunities. They should be viewed as a collective

  1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well-being of individuals and communities.
  2. Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
  3. The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.
  4. For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult-led agendas.
  5. The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.
  6. The playworker’s response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up to date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.
  7. Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people’s play on the playworker.
  8. Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well-being of children.


The Charter for Children’s Play was introduced to increase awareness and understanding of Children’s play across sectors such as health, planning and development, education and social care.  The Charter states:

  • Children have the right to play
  • Every child needs time and space to play
  • Adults should let children play
  • Children should be able to play freely in their local areas
  • Children value and benefit from staffed play provision
  • Children’s play is enriched by skilled playworkers
  • Children need time and space to play at school
  • Children sometimes need extra support to enjoy their right to play