Poverty and PlaytimePlaytime is an essential part of childhood. Playing with toys begins when a child is very young and is key in helping them explore their environment. The act of play has been proven to help a child try new things, developed problem-solving skills and process emotions, as well as establish confidence and coping abilities. But with a reported 593 million children living in multidimensional poverty, there is the risk of not enjoying the benefits of playtime. With two-thirds of the world’s poor being children, there are questions regarding whether poverty and playtime can co-exist.

The Jamaican Study

A study conducted in Jamaica by child health specialists Sally Grantham-McGregor and Susan Walker may hold the answer. The study revealed a bold link between poverty and playtime, specifically that playing with toys at an early age had the potential to lift a child out of poverty later in life. The Jamaican study looked at children between 9 months and 24 months of age who were classified as living in extreme poverty and, weekly for two years, provided them and their families with a ‘mental and social stimulus’ program. The program involved the use of handmade toys and simple picture books. Parents were encouraged to sing and read with their children. The children receiving toys and regular playtime were compared to a control group over the course of 20 years.

The results were staggering. Those who had participated in regular playtime earned 25% more in adulthood than children in the control group. Children who had playtime had higher IQ and cognitive flexibility, better mental health and fewer risk behaviors later in life. The study’s methodology showed that playtime does not need to be expensive to be effective. Its simplicity means similar methods are now being duplicated across Bangladesh, India and Colombia, tailored to fit a specific country’s needs. There is hope the results will be just as promising as the results from the Jamaican Study.

Further Studies Regarding Children and Playtime

Further studies have suggested that children living in poverty are more likely to suffer from developmental delays. Most important to note is that the act of play substantially mitigated these delays. These results prove that there is a significant and long-term benefit to play. The results suggest that it is important that children, especially in developing countries where poverty acts as a barrier to play, have the space and tools they need to enjoy playing.

Global Play Schemes for Kids

There are a number of play schemes in place across many disadvantaged parts of the world. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), for example, has been operating the Child Friendly Spaces scheme since 1999. These spaces typically run in areas plagued by conflict or extreme weather events. These spaces are so invaluable, they have come to be known as sanctuaries – places where children can run, sing and play together safely and freely. Child Friendly Spaces mean that the gap between poverty and playtime is shortened rather than widened, ensuring that children are fulfilled and enriched in spite of their circumstances.

Other initiatives to bring toys to children living in poverty include:

  • Play Well Africa: An organization that collects unwanted Legos and distributes them to some of Africa’s poorest children.
  • Samaritan’s Purse: Its ‘Operation Christmas Child’ initiative helps children living in poverty to receive toys and gifts during Christmas. Samaritan’s Purse has given gifts to over 209 million children in more than 170 countries and territories.
  • Worldwide Orphans: This organization helps children to enjoy the right to play through their mobile ‘toy libraries’, aiding children across Haiti, Ethiopia, Bulgaria and Vietnam.

Going Forward

It is evident how much positivity toys can bring to a child, both emotionally and developmentally. Ultimately, it is vital for the well-being of children living in developing countries that opportunities for playtime are plentiful, and that poverty and playtime can coexist rather than exist separately.

On the bright side, global initiatives and organizations like UNICEF, Play Well Africa, Samaritan’s Purse and Worldwide Orphans are working tirelessly to bridge the gap between poverty and playtime, ensuring that children in disadvantaged circumstances can experience the joy and benefits of play.

– Chloe Jenkins
Photo: Flickr