The Concept of Play Sufficiency

Thursday October 3, 2019

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child encourages countries to embrace the principle of play sufficiency and Wales was the first country in the world to do so. This blog provides a brief introduction to the concept of play sufficiency and its potential for re-thinking the ways in which adults support children's play.

In 2013 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published General Comment 17 on Article 31 of the UNCRC. The purpose of this ‘General Comment’ was to clarify and emphasise the responsibilities of countries within the United Nations in terms of children’s right to play:

‘The Committee, in its reviews of implementation of the rights of the child under the Convention, is concerned by the poor recognition given by States to Article 31 rights. Poor recognition of their significance in the lives of children results in lack of investment in appropriate provision, weak or non-existent protective legislation and invisibility of children in national and local level planning. In general, where investment is made, it is in the provision of structured and organised activities. Equally important is the need to create time and space for spontaneous play, recreation and creativity, and the promotion of societal attitudes that support and encourage such activity.’

The General Comment goes on to recommend that governments introduce legislation to support children’s play based on the principle of sufficiency, a clear endorsement of the pioneering approach taken in Wales. In 2012, Wales became the first country in the world to legislate specifically in support of children’s play when the Welsh Government introduced the Play Sufficiency Duty. This duty places a responsibility on all local authority’s in Wales to carry out an assessment of children’s opportunities for play every three years and in between times take action to secure sufficient opportunities based on their findings.

Both the Welsh Government’s play sufficiency guidance and General Comment 17 are clear that securing sufficient play opportunities for children is not just about designated provision but is dependent on the ability of local authorities to cultivate the temporal, spatial and psychological conditions needed for children to play (Barclay and Tawil, 2013). This in turn highlights the need for changes to be made across national and local government, within local community practices and adult run institutions, and within people’s own homes to create an environment that is more supportive and considerate of children’s innate playful behaviour.

‘The PSA (play sufficiency assessment) has set local authorities on a road that pays increasing attention to the ways in which adults (both in a professional capacity and through their everyday encounters with children) may adopt a more caring role that acknowledges the importance of children finding time and space, with and without adults, in their immediate environments. It requires adults to begin to pay more careful attention to the multiple ways in which adults and children are connected, directly and remotely in co-creating conditions for playing.’

Lester & Russell, 2013

By adopting an ecological systems approach, it is possible to identify potential affordances for play throughout all aspects of children’s lives and begin to consider how different factors may constrain, regulate or support children’s ability to actualise these opportunities for play. From this measures may be designed and implemented to help maintain those conditions that are supportive and address those that are not. However this will require the involvement of a much broader range of people than might previously have been deemed necessary (Barclay and Tawil, 2016).

Ultimately this is about creating environments that ‘work’ for children, or rather that children can ‘work’, where they are able to navigate themselves to the resources on offer and make practical use of them. As Colin Ward (1970) questioned: ‘do our urban environments, as adult constructed institutions, have a ‘helping mode’ towards children or can they no longer practically deal with it?’ and if not then: ‘how can the link between the ‘city’ and child be made more fruitful and enjoyable for both?’.


Barclay, M. & Tawil, B. (2013) Wrexham Play Sufficiency Assessment 2013: Abridged. Wrexham: Wrexham county  Council Wales.

Barclay, M. & Tawil, B. (2016) Wrexham Play Sufficiency Assessment: Abridged. Wrexham: Wrexham county Council Wales.

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.

Ward, C. (1978) The Child in the City. London: Penguin Books

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