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All about play

Playing is one of the most important aspects of children’s lives. Children value time, freedom and quality places to play. When asked about what matters to them, children consistently mention playing and meeting up with their friends.


In this section you will find information about: 


  • Children’s right to play
  • Playing and meeting up outdoors
  • Play and inclusion
  • Play and risk
  • Play and screen time
  • Teenagers and play
  • Spaces to play
  • International Day of Play
  • Playday
  • Working with children
children playing in suspended tyre

What is play?

‘Play’ describes many different types of behaviour and interactions with other people, environments and objects.

In General Comment no. 17, published in 2013, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines play as:


‘a behaviour, activity or process initiated, controlled and structured by children. Play takes place whenever and wherever opportunities arise.’

General Comment no. 17 also notes the key characteristics of play:


  • fun
  • uncertainty
  • challenge
  • flexibility
  • non-productivity.

This aligns with and builds on the Welsh Government’s definition of play (published in its 2002 Play Policy) as:


‘encompassing children’s behaviour which is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. It is performed for no external goal or reward and is a fundamental and integral part of healthy development – not only for individual children, but also for the society in which they live’.


Opportunities for children to play can be supported or restricted in three main ways:


  • Time: the demands on children’s time and how it is structured
  • Space: the amount, design and management of space where children might play
  • Permission: fear, expectations, tolerance, and the way adults view childhood and play.
boy on swing

Why is playing important? 

Playing is central to children’s physical, mental, social and emotional health and wellbeing. Studies show that playing helps children feel part of their neighbourhoods and wider communities. Playing also supports:

  • socialisation
  • resilience
  • health and wellbeing 
  • learning and development
  • happiness.
Right to play child on slide

Every child has the right to play whatever their culture, impairment, gender, language, background, behaviour or need

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Play and risk child hammering nail into wood

Children seek risk and uncertainty in their play – they are drawn to challenge, novelty, and the unexpected

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Playing and meeting outdoors teens talking at bus stop

Supporting children and teenagers to play outside and meet up with friends is crucial for their health and happiness

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Spaces for playing children playing with sand

All good spaces for playing offer a rich play environment with lots of play value for every child

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Play and inclusion boy in wheelchair smiling with girl sitting on floor

Inclusive play means giving all children and teenagers equal access to good quality local play provision

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Working with children Working with children

As adults, it is our responsibility to make sure children have the time, space and freedom to play. There is a whole workforce that helps make this happen.

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Play and screen time boy playing with bubbles

Taking a balanced approach to children and teenagers’ play and use of digital technology

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Teenagers and play teens on park bench

Just like younger children, older children and teenagers need time, space and freedom to play

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International Day of Play

The United Nations International Day of Play recognises children’s right to play and its importance for their wellbeing

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Playday child at water park

The national day for play in the UK – celebrating children’s right to play

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Playful Childhoods

Play Wales’ Playful Childhoods campaign aims to help parents, carers and community groups provide more opportunities for children to play at home and in their neighbourhoods.

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