Playday: a national day of PLAY

Playday is the national day for play in the UK, traditionally held on the first Wednesday in August. This year on Wednesday August 2nd National Playday is 30 years old.

So what is Playday all about?

Playday celebrates children’s right to play which is enshrined in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This states that, “Every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” - Article 31, UNCRC. 

What is play? Depending on your perspective play can be: a human drive, a developmental tool, a disposition. I say that play is a creative process, and that rather than a means to an end, play is the vitality and lightness that can give us the feeling that life is good. Isn’t that worth a lot in itself?

Everyone from the ancient Greek philosophers understood the importance of play. It is studied from many different perspectives yet  it still remains elusive and magical. When children spin around on the spot until they feel dizzy, perhaps they are creating conditions in which they feel out of control-in a controlled way and are testing their resilience. But we don’t really know and perhaps it isn’t really important to know why.

Y Active

Y Active is the Children and Young People’s team within YMCA club, and all our work is underpinned with a strong respect for play. People need play, for all sorts of life-affirming affects including-but-not limited to: making friends, coming up with new ideas, feeling good, living a life that feels good and one in which you can bounce back from set-backs. Mucking about is serious business, and at the Y, whether we’re running a swimming class or a holiday playscheme, there is always time and space for playfulness. Children are experts in the field of play, we set the boundaries and let the children do what they do best - be children. 

The kind of positive and fun experience Y Active children get can be key to staying active for life. The 2016 Sport England strategy puts great emphasis on positive experiences of physical activity for children, recognizing that these early experiences have a long-lasting effect on life time habits. In 2015 Sport England stated that Playing outside their homes with their friends is the easiest way for children to get regular exercise. 

Doing better at school

UK Active states: ‘’Physical activity raises levels of norepinephrine, the hormone responsible for concentration and endorphins."

Mental Health

According to PHE (Public Health England) more than 110,000 children in London suffer significant mental ill health, and the reasons for this are complex. It is reasonable to highlight playfulness as an important protective factor against these, and therefore to make space and allow children time to play in their own way.

Playday events range from street parties, festivals in parks or village greens, mass adventures in woodlands, fields, even beaches, and public events at community venues. From small-scale events to thousands of children taking part in events organised in parks and open spaces – Playday is celebrated by each community in a way that suits them. To find a Playday event or to get advice on your own Playday celebration:


About the Author

Laura Walsh is the Children and Young People’s Manager, heading the Y Active team. She started her career with Central YMCA in 2006 as a sessional Playworker and Creche worker, many of the children she looked after as babies in the crèche are now Youth members. Laura has fitness qualifications in advanced gym instruction, older adults, kids, youth, pregnancy and exercise, disability exercise and recently graduated with an MA in Children and Play from Gloucester University. Laura’s approach is one of valuing diversity, creativity and connectivity.

ymca | 18 July 2017