research paper by Shasta Children and Families First Commission on the benefits of playgrounds for children confirms what we know to be true here at African Development Choices — playgrounds are vital to the early years of childhood development.

Playgrounds are not a luxury

“Children who have access to extremely limited forms of play are deprived of the wide range of learning and development opportunities that varied and imaginative play offers.”

Children in Africa play in the way that any other children in the world 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 and development. 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 and development opportunities that varied and imaginative play offers.

Three key reasons for playgrounds

“Playgrounds support early years development, facilitate free play, and support brain development.”

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

Here are three key reasons:

  1. Playgrounds support early years 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Playgrounds support all aspects of brain 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 equipment.

Our vision for playgrounds in schools and communities in Africa

“We are working with community leaders to make safe, purpose-built playgrounds a standard feature in schools and community parks.”

African Development Choices wants to set 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 schools and community parks.

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

Why are there so few playgrounds in African communities?

“As a child growing up in Kenya, I wondered why I did not have access to a playground.” – Moses Tai, Founder of African Development Choices

You may be wondering why this situation exists? It’s not that there is no money to build playgrounds. Every year, hundreds of millions of US dollars are lost to corruption in Africa. Hundreds of millions 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 precedence and empower communities to hold leaders to account for their management of public funds — for the future of our children.

Be a part of the change

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