Some of the streets in downtown Kingston are coming alive with the sounds of happy children and smiling parents. Welcome to Street Play JA, a pilot initiative by UNICEF, implemented by partner our Fight for Peace, which aims to counter a lack of play spaces for children and foster greater community understanding of the power of play.
The idea is a simple one. To stage weekly sessions that are all about play and what it can teach: teamwork, patience, sharing, respect, confidence, humility and responsibility.
For children and parents in the pilot communities, many of whom witness violence on a regular basis, having the freedom to play and laugh takes on added dimensions since play also acts as a form of therapy.
Play used as a form therapy
“I like how it unifies everybody. Age differences disappeared. It felt like, for the time our troubles disappeared. We got to be kids again,” said Yonique Campbell, a member of the Denham Town community.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is assisting with the blocking of the streets to cars and parenting sessions are also included. Referrals are made to existing Fight for Peace programmes and/or guidance counselors. The activities will be as inclusive as possible to ensure participation by children with mixed abilities, serving as a form of unified play.
“Street Play allows us to cast a wider net than our structured sport and personal development sessions,” says Kellie Magnus, Fight for Peace Country Lead. “It’s a great platform for getting parents and children to be active together. We’re hoping that play will help us to promote our larger positive parenting goals.”
Promoting positive parenting
Street Play aligns with the violence prevention efforts by UNICEF in partnership with a number of NGOs and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information across Jamaica to create more child friendly-schools and communities.
Fight for Peace will track the participation and impact of the programme and the findings will be evaluated and shared with the Government to consider how Street Play might be expanded across Jamaica.
“The kids loved it,” said Fight for Peace psychologist Michelle Harrison, reflecting on the first session. “One girl shared that play gave her a way to get involved in the community even though she had just met some of the other children that day and another remarked that it was nice to play without rules and just be free to be themselves. A few others mentioned that having the police cars block the roads also made them feel important.”
Hopes to expand islandwide
A member of the Fight for Peace psychological support team will be present at all street play sessions to mediate activities and provide follow up support and therapy where necessary.
UNICEF supports the right of children to be free to regularly play actively and independently in front of, or near their homes. It builds important life skills and can also deepen the bond between parent and child.