Children playing - where it all begins

Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell and Martina Anderson join Jacqueline O�Loughlin and Roisin McCooey from Playboard at the launch of Connections Through Play at Stormont. 1410MG01
Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell and Martina Anderson join Jacqueline O�Loughlin and Roisin McCooey from Playboard at the launch of Connections Through Play at Stormont. 1410MG01

Junior Minister MARTINA ANDERSON MLA says play is a vital part of growing up - so important that it’s mentioned in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. She talks about what’s being done in Derry and elsewhere to help give children a great start to life

Someone once said that play is the beginning of knowledge and while this is true, play is what children chose to do with their own time and for their own reasons. From play comes many benefits and these cannot be overlooked - it allows children to express, explore, discover and make sense of the world. Play teaches creativity and sparks the imagination, it encourages risk-taking and problem-solving, improves communication skills, builds self-confidence and develops leadership.

I could go on and list many more benefits but put simply the importance of Play for Children and Young People is evidenced in its inclusion within Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child(UNCRC). In that article, State Parties are asked to 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 for this reason we have the responsibility of nurturing play and providing play opportunities.

Since becoming an OFMDFM Junior Minister I have met with many of the key stakeholders in the sector and have been impressed by their commitment and passion. This energy and desire must not be lost. Rather, we must use it to our advantage and work together to achieve common goals.

As Junior Minister I can give you the assurance that the Executive remains committed to the development of play and leisure for children and young people. This is evidenced by the publication of the Play and Leisure Implementation Plan in March 2011.

Whilst many of the actions within the plan are for our colleagues in other Executive departments and local councils to deliver on, we in OFMDFM recognise our role within this and as such have identified actions specific to us. Some of these actions are:

1 - Successfully engaging with local councils to encourage planning strategically to enhance provision for play and leisure at a local level. This action has resulted in us entering into partnership working arrangements with 14 councils and we currently are engaging with the other 12.

2 - Delivering seminars, in conjunction with Playboard, on risk-taking in play and on showing professionals how to shape communities to be play- and child-friendly.

3 - And last but not least we invested in providing a range of exemplar projects across council areas on new and innovative play areas - these have proved to be very successful.

So while we have done a lot so far we still have a way to go to complete the journey. We need organisations and key players in the sector to come on this journey with us, because we can achieve so much more together than we can alone.

A full audit of play provision has been carried out by Derry City Council and some communities in the city have established Play Plan Delivery Groups in partnership with Council as a means of working up plans for play provision in their local areas. The City’s One Plan has also recognised the importance of play to the development and well-being of children by including play provision in the Quality Spaces, Places and Neighbourhoods catalyst project.

If play is where it all begins, then together let us give our children the best possible start.