By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Long before recorded history, children played. From the beginning, their play took three outward forms: conflict, imitation and chance. Play as conflict appears in games of skill and competitive sports. We associate imitation with cooperative games, such as role playing and creative or imaginative play. Games of chance — most familiar to us in cards and dice — often involve sticks, stones, shells, beads, or bones in developing countries.
We also know now that play is critical to children’s development, and many who live in developing countries do not have the time and opportunity to play with their peers, to lay down their worries for a moment and just be children.
Today is Universal Children’s Day, an event that aims for greater understanding of and among children of all nations. Its roots are in a 1954 United Nations conference when officials recommended that each country set aside a day for children. Nov. 20 has special meaning as the date on which the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and, 30 years later, the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Educators describe play as the young child’s work. It’s more than self-expression. Unstructured play teaches children about the natural world, themselves and society. Through play, children develop motor and cognitive skills, learn cultural values and mature in emotional intelligence. Strategic thinking, pattern matching, problem solving, math mastery, negotiation, sensitivity to others and conflict resolution are just the beginning of play’s hidden benefits.
If child’s play is the foundation of our intellectual, social, physical and emotional development, then play is education. And if education is human development, then development truly begins when each young child plays.
Last year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched Global Education First (GEFI), a new initiative raising the political profile of education. Its premise is that education leads to gender equality, economic opportunity, health and environmental sustainability. GEFI aims to put every child in school, provide them all with quality education and, ultimately, transform children into global citizens.
ChildFund also seeks to improve educational opportunities and learning environments in every community where we work.
Having taught both here in the United States and in Africa, I know there’s more to education than schools, equipment, materials and instructors, essential as they are. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child reminds us: “The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation.”
Play is universal; it comes naturally. Kids everywhere turn anything into a game. Think of hide-and-seek, kick-the-can, string games, Simon Says, clapping rhymes, rope skipping and hopscotch. You find them in Virginia, Eastern Europe, Southern Asia, Latin America and West Africa. In ChildFund International’s lobby, we have toys created by children in the countries we serve, playthings that demonstrate resourcefulness and creativity.
In developing countries, children play with scrap materials. A stick turns a wheel rim into a perpetual motion machine. Gathering up discarded plastic shopping bags, village boys weave them into soccer balls. Empty aluminum cans and bottle caps morph into toy animals or race cars. In a girl’s hands, a bit of cloth, some string and a corn husk become a doll.
Here in the United States, we’re blessed with leisure and money to spend on play dates, soccer lessons and computer games. But when play becomes our babysitter, we tend to forget its true value in children’s lives.
Kristina, a tutor at an Early Childhood Development center in Indonesia, often makes toys from available resources, including recycled materials, that teach her children about shapes and numbers. “With these resources, they get to play with a range of different educational toys, and we know that they are learning while enjoying being a child,” she says. “I wish I had these when I was a child.”
by Cynthia Price, Director of Communications
In the Victorian era, children were to be seen and not heard. Today, we know it’s important to listen to children. At ChildFund, we really listen to children. We just heard from more than 6,000!
We asked them about their hopes, dreams and fears. We even asked them about the environment. It’s part of our third annual survey of children conducted with other members of ChildFund Alliance.
The Small Voices, Big Dreams survey found that 10- to 12-year-olds from Africa, Asia and the Americas put an overwhelming emphasis on their schooling, have admirable aspirations for their future and have personally experienced such natural disasters as drought, flood or fire.
What struck me as I read the results was the wisdom of these children from 47 countries. They are well aware of what they need for a brighter future. If they were president of their countries, they said their priorities would include improving education, curtailing pollution and planting more trees.
One in two children in developing countries said she or he would improve education or provide greater enrichment opportunities. This answer really hits me hard. Having visited some of our programs around the world, I know how important education is to a brighter future. And each day, as I pass the reconstructed Kenyan classroom in ChildFund’s headquarters lobby, I am reminded of the constant lack. Too often children have only pencil nubs to write with, not enough notebooks to write in and few books to read. Chalkboards are cracked, maps are tattered and classrooms are terribly overcrowded. Despite such conditions, children show up every day ready to learn.
The good news is that child sponsorship helps improve educational opportunities. Children have revitalized schools and an adequate supply of pencils and books for writing and reading. They have trained teachers who are excited to teach and help students grow in their confidence. In fact, many of the children surveyed said they want to become a teacher (24%) or a doctor (27%). They aspire to careers that they know will make a difference in their lives and in their community. The professions are in contrast to children in the U.S., who most wanted to become pro athletes (18%).
And while the survey found that at least one in three children from developing countries has experienced drought (40%), flood (33%) or forest/bush fire (30%), their biggest ecological concern was the growing threat of pollution on the environment. One in four children cited various forms of pollution as the “environmental problem they worry about most.”
When asked what one thing they would do to change the environment around their community, 28 percent of children in developing nations said they would plant more trees and build more parks. A similar number (29%) of children in developed countries said their top priority would be to reduce or stop littering.
As we reaffirm every year in the Small Voices, Big Dreams survey, children have important things to say and we must listen to their concerns and their ideas.
Learn more about the survey and download a copy of the full report.