Play Sufficiency

Play Sufficiency and the Child Friendly City

Thursday October 3, 2019

The principle of play sufficiency is key to any 'Child Friendly' movement as it requires adults to pay greater attention to the multitude of variables influencing children's ability to express their right to play.

The Child Friendly Cities movement seeks to create systems of governance and urban environments that uphold and provide for children’s rights (Unicef, 2019). Diversity of environmental resources and access to play and exploration have been regarded as two central criteria for child-friendly environments (Kytta, 2003). However children’s ability to find time and space for playing is more often than not dependent on adults making allowances for it.

Perhaps the most significant change for childhoods today compared to those of previous generations is the increasing degree to which children are living and therefore playing in environments designed, built and supervised by adults, who may have a tendency to prioritise the interests of other adults over those of children. Play in particular has been trivialised, colonised, commercialised and designed out by adults.

Play is children’s culture and the fact that playing matters so much to children but has received so little attention from adults presents an opportunity to do things differently. By prioritising play alongside other adult agendas and positioning play as central to our thinking, we can ensure children and their way of engaging with the world (what they do and how they do it) has much greater influence over how we govern and the design of environments we create for people.

The Welsh Play Sufficiency Duty legitimises play as an outcome, justifies time spent supporting play, requires a broad range of professionals to give consideration to play and elevates the status of play alongside other strategic priorities. However the beauty of this legislation can be found in its ambiguity and the Welsh Government should be commended for resisting the temptation to define what is enough. As a consequence the concept of play sufficiency raises more questions than it answers: what is sufficient in terms of the quantity and quality of play, how can we know and how do we find out if children are getting enough? As Professor David Ball (2012) suggested when talking about the Health and Safety at Work Act, it is this ambiguity that encourages a more thoughtful approach.

Factors affecting the sufficiency of opportunities for play include but are not limited to: parental permission influenced by their fears and values; other obligations on children’s time; the amount and proximity of public open space; the layout of residential roads; the amount and speed of traffic; the availability and quality of play provision; the attitudes of other residents; the visibility of other children; practices within adult run services and institutions; local and national media coverage; planning, transport, housing and education policies; and public liability concerns.

The concept of play sufficiency provides a lens through which we can examine a wide range of factors to consider how they impact on the rights of children and explore how they might be re-imagined and re-arranged to create more favourable conditions for playing. This process requires adults to account for the ways in which we impact (both positively and negatively) on children’s ability to find time and space for play.

Play sufficiency is therefore a process of critical analysis that involves scrutinising adult assumptions, attitudes and practices to identify ways in which we can improve our collective ability to better respond to children’s right to play (Lester and Russell, 2013 and 2014).

In doing so, play sufficiency raises other important questions about the ways in which we view children and their childhoods, the roles of adults in children’s lives, our priorities for public services and children’s equality of access to the public realm. It also presents an opportunity to do and think about things differently, to experiment with alternative ways of supporting children and their play and to see what happens. As a consequence the concept of play sufficiency is an ideal organising principle for the development of child friendly communities and holds great promise for the revitalising of local neighbourhoods, childhood institutions and professional networks.


Ball, D.J. and Ball-King, L. (2014) Public Safety and Risk Assessment: Improving Decision Making. Routledge.

Kytta, M. (2004) The extent of children’s independent mobility and the number of actualized affordances as criteria for child-friendly environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 24, pp. 179-198.

Lester, S. & Russell, W. (2013) Leopard skin wellies, a top hat and a vacuum cleaner hose: An analysis of Wales’ Play Sufficiency Measure, Gloucestershire: University of Gloucestershire.

Lester, S. and Russell, W. K. (2014) Towards Securing Sufficient Play Opportunities: A short study into the preparation undertaken for the commencement of the second part of the Welsh Government’s Play Sufficiency Duty to secure sufficient play opportunities. Cardiff: Play Wales.

Unicef (2019), Child Friendly Cities Initiative, Unicef, viewed 01 September 2019, www.


In Conversation with Stuart Lester: Play Sufficiency as an organising principle

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