Reasons Why Communities and Schools in Africa Need Playgrounds

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A research paper by Shasta Children and Families First Commission confirms what we know to be true here at African Development Choices — playgrounds and are vital to early years development.

Children in Africa play in the way that any other children do. You’ll see them skipping in the street, making up games with piles of stones or turning a plastic bottle into a football. But, what you won’t see in most African
communities is children playing in a school or public playground. Why? Because they don’t exist.

There are many people who find this acceptable — children find ingenious ways to play and have fun without fancy play equipment. Playgrounds are a Western luxury, right?

Wrong. Play isn’t merely fun for infants and children of all ages, it enhances all types of learning. The pleasure of play facilitates and accelerates cognitive, motor, social and emotional skills. Children who have access to
extremely limited forms of play are deprived of the wide range of learning opportunities that varied and imaginative play offers.

So, why exactly are playgrounds the answer to providing African children with this well-rounded development experience?

Here are 3 key reasons:

1. Playgrounds support all aspects of brain development

Purpose-built playgrounds and play equipment create a learning environment like no other. Rather than children having to scrabble around to find everyday items to play with, playgrounds offer a natural environment
for imaginative play. A well-designed playground provides children with a wide range of activities that encourage them to challenge their physical, social and emotional skills, and develop creativity. A child that regularly plays
in a playground will be able to develop well-rounded skills. Children that make do when it comes to play, are limited in the skills that they can develop.

2. Playgrounds facilitates free play

Free play is different to the structured play of teacher-led sports games and organised activities. It allows children to play in ways that they choose, and to interact with and learn from other children of all ages.

A playground creates a safe environment in which children can freely choose HOW to play and with whom. It’s where they develop and learn to understand their preferences. A well thought out playground will have space
for alone time, space for small groups and space for large group games, like tag.

Playgrounds are the hub of social interaction. They bring children together to practice and hone skills such as teamwork, conversation, sharing, compromise, negotiation and how to express feelings. It’s where they begin
to learn and implement social and cultural rules. Playgrounds are a learning ground for life skills.

3. Playgrounds support early years development

It’s well documented that play stimulates brain development and function in infants and young children.
Repetitive play consolidates a child’s:

Sensory functioning — touch, taste, smell, hearing, vision, balance and proprioception (awareness of where your body is in space).

Motor skills — coordination, muscle development, balance and posture, gross and fine motor skills, timing and rhythm, hand dominance, and visual tracking and coordination.

In the first six years of life, a child needs regular opportunities to varied and stimulating sensory play if it is to develop these early years skills. A child that doesn’t have this opportunity is likely to have some level of limited cognitive capacity for life.

The play structures found in purpose-built playgrounds and soft play areas give young children the chance to practice the full range of sensory and motor skills. Older children can challenge themselves on more advanced

Our vision for playgrounds in communities and schools in Africa

African Development Choices want to set a precedence in African countries. We don’t want children to make do; we want them to have access to playgrounds that provide every opportunity to enhance their development. That’s why we are working with community leaders to make safe, purpose-built playgrounds a standard feature in community parks and schools.

We have already made headway in Kisii County, Kenya. We are working with the Board of Management at Nyansakia II D.O.K Primary School to build a playground and community sanitation facilities. Take a look at the difference
this will make to over 700 children and their families in our short video

Why are there so few playgrounds in African communities?

You may be wondering why this situation exists? It’s not that there’s no money to build playgrounds. Every year, billions of dollars are lost to corruption in Africa. Billions of dollars that could be used to provide safe
playground facilities where children can learn, develop and have fun. This is why we must set a precedence and hold leaders to account for their public spending — for the future of our children.

Our work relies on international funding and the generous donations of individuals, philanthropists and businesses. Please visit if you’d like to help give thousands of children in Africa a better, more stimulating start in life.

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