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Canadian Public Health Association

Let kids play!


Ottawa, Ontario

National public health association supports unstructured children's play

The Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) promotes unstructured play as a child’s right and a critical component to child and youth health and well-being. Actions are necessary to reduce the barriers limiting opportunities for unstructured play at school and in the community.

“We need to ‘let kids be kids’ and provide them with opportunities to play each day. By doing so, we will see far-reaching benefits at home, in the classroom, and in communities. This position statement provides concrete actions to promote unstructured play,” says Ian Culbert, CPHA’s Executive Director.

Unstructured play happens when children follow their instincts, ideas, and interests without an imposed outcome. It may include challenging forms of play, and provides opportunities for exploring boundaries that allow children to determine their own limits in a variety of settings. Adults may facilitate unstructured play but not prescribe it. Numerous physical and mental health benefits are associated with active outdoor play.

Access to unstructured play is affected by:

  • the emphasis parents/guardians place on structured extra-curricular activities and academics;
  • strategies implemented by municipalities and school boards to reduce the likelihood of all play-related injuries;
  • the availability of natural and built play spaces in urban and rural environments; and,
  • a child’s economic status, gender, religion, race, culture or ethnicity.

CPHA calls upon all caregivers, educators, school boards, public health professionals, the private sector and all levels of governments and Indigenous peoples’ governments to improve access to unstructured, child-led play through the following actions.

All Levels of Government

  • Recognize unstructured play as a critical part of healthy child development and adopt a mandate that clarifies this importance.
  • Develop and strengthen policies that encourage unstructured outdoor play in all seasons and related weather conditions.
  • Strengthen investments to enhance and protect natural and inclusive play spaces within walkable distances of where children live and learn.

Provincial/Territorial Governments

  • Invest in unstructured play facilitator training and development for child and youth workers, educators, and principals;
  • Amend educators’ collective agreements to permit additional supervision time to support unstructured play for recess.
  • Reform Joint and Several Liability to require defendants to only pay the percentage of damages for which they are found liable.
  • Influence the use of risk-benefit assessment processes to mitigate play-associated liability concerns for child care providers and school boards.


  • Establish a community-wide approach to increasing access to unstructured play that establishes a common vision and addresses community concerns.
  • Enhance community planning and design standards to increase and improve all-seasons play spaces and parks within existing communities and new residential or mixed-use developments.
  • Identify and address gaps in access to safe places for unstructured play by location and socio-economic status.
  • Influence the use of risk-benefit assessment processes to mitigate play-associated liability concerns for municipalities.

Public Health Agencies

  • Strengthen partnerships with key organizations to advocate for and provide evidence about the importance of unstructured play for healthy child development and increase capacity to implement healthy public policy solutions.
  • Shift the knowledge, attitude, beliefs and behaviours of parents and caregivers concerning unstructured play by using marketing, communication and social media approaches.
  • Develop a position in support of unstructured play that uses a risk-benefit approach to balance injury prevention and childhood development (physical, mental, cognitive and social) benefits.

Research and Surveillance

  • Collect, monitor and report play space child injury data, including exposure and demographic information, to inform standards and policy development that can be applied across provinces.
  • Conduct research on the longitudinal benefits of unstructured play.

Play Space Designers

  • Adopt Universal Design Principles such that a variety of play elements are available to individuals of all abilities, including those that provide sensory and tactile experiences.
  • Add loose parts** and natural elements to manufactured play facilities, and develop dedicated natural play spaces that include loose parts.

Canadian Standards Association

  • Amend Playground Standard Z614 to be more considerate of child development needs and acceptable risk-taking in play, including the adoption of a risk-benefit assessment process.

Read the position statement.

CPHA also released a Toolkit of resources to promote children’s play that complements the position statement. The Toolkit is freely available on CPHA’s website and is useful for caregivers, educators, and other decision-makers.

For more information contact:
Emma Mallach, Communications Manager
Canadian Public Health Association
Telephone: 613.725.3769, ext. 160

About the Canadian Public Health Association
Founded in 1910, the Canadian Public Health Association is the independent voice for public health in Canada with links to the international community. As the only Canadian non-governmental organization focused exclusively on public health, we are uniquely positioned to advise decision-makers about public health system reform and to guide initiatives to help safeguard the personal and community health of Canadians and people around the world. We are a national, independent, not-for-profit, voluntary association. Our members believe in universal and equitable access to the basic conditions which are necessary to achieve health for all.

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