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Early learning and child special care centers across South Africa host play activations, joining global events, to engage children, caregivers, and everyone to #PledgeToPlay today and every day.

The first ever International Day of Play – 11 June – marks a milestone in the recognition of the crucial role of play in children’s and adult’s intellectual, social, emotional, and physical growth.

Adopted by a United Nations resolution passed in March this year, the now annual commemoration creates a unifying moment to elevate the importance of play, while also spotlighting barriers to play like harmful practices, disabilities, gender discrimination, and conflict.

In South Africa, activations are taking place at early learning centers across the country, including those for children living with disabilities, to recognize the power of play in collaboration with the Department of Basic Education and multiple partners. Children, early learning practitioners and caregivers are celebrating with specially produced ‘play packs’ that include the Manifesto For Fun colouring book and a #PledgeToPlay commitment for adults to sign up to.

Science shows that play isn’t just fun, it’s a biological imperative. Child-led exploration, adventure and collaboration experienced through play drives the 21st century skills essential for progress and prosperity. Much of the ingenuity, creativity and tenacity that propels our world forward, started its journey in childhood, through play. Play is also a child right enshrined in article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

But despite its holistic benefits, play is undervalued and trivialised. Many young children are not only deprived of play, stimulation and interaction with their parents and caregivers but are sadly exposed to violence. New UNICEF global data reveals that nearly 400 million children under 5 — or 6 in 10 children in that age group — regularly endure psychological aggression or physical punishment at home.

In South Africa, rates of violence against children are tragically high, despite corporal punishment being prohibited through the 2019 National Child Care and Protection Policy. As noted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child earlier this year, the practice is still socially acceptable and positive, non-violent, and participatory forms of child-rearing and discipline need to be urgently promoted.

To ensure every child grows up playing and feeling safe and loved, three core focus areas are highlighted to drive progress.

  • Protection: Strengthening implementation of legal and policy frameworks that prohibit and end all forms of violence against children in the home;
  • Parenting support: Scaling up evidence-based parenting programmes that promote positive, playful approaches, and prevent family violence;
  • Playful learning: Expanding access to learning and play spaces for children, including preschools, schools, and playgrounds.

Alongside the #PledgeToPlay activations in South Africa, the day will be marked at the UN Headquarters in New York, featuring a high-level forum, a play installation and experience, and a pre-k classroom learning through play.

Messages from partners

Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa, Representative

“Promoting nurturing and playful caregiving is core to positive child development and progress throughout life. The benefits of a playful childhood go beyond fun and can help to break cycles of violence, poverty and learning challenges. That’s why UNICEF and partners are committed to empowering parents with the resources they need to nurture their children, putting play at the centre.”

Debbie Cockrell, Toy Library Association of South Africa, Chairperson

“Toy Libraries have been around the South African landscape for over 30 years. We are delighted with the developments and recognition offered by the UN to continue raising awareness and advocating for play in communities. Our vision includes seeing access to a toy library by every community across the country. Congratulations to all entities involved in the launch of IDoP for 2024, in raising awareness around the importance of play, access to safe spaces and resources, as well as building support systems to communities for practitioners, teachers and parents.”

Mari Payne, Sesame Workshop, Deputy Managing Director and Senior Director, Education & Outreach.

“Playful learning is at the core of our work in South Africa and beyond. We strongly support a play-to- learn culture where both children and parents have fun while learning – the benefits are exponential. Sesame Workshop is excited and committed to supporting The International Day of Play and #PledgeToPlay on 11 June 2024.”

Nozizwe Dladla-Qwabe, Cotlands, Acting Chief Executive Officer.

“We are thrilled to celebrate the International Day of Play with our Toy Libraries, bringing joy and inclusive play to children from under-resourced ECD centres. Our Toy Libraries also run parent workshops to promote frequent play between parent and child, underscoring our commitment to creating enriching play-based learning experiences for every child, regardless of their background.”


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children visit www.unicef.org

Follow UNICEF on TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube

About The Toy Library Association of South Africa

The Toy Library Association of South Africa (TLASA) is a Non-Profit Organisation officially established in South Africa in 2018. TLASA is affiliated globally to the International Toy Library Association and works to continue to strengthen the sector through the many organisations represented in both urban and rural communities.www.tlasa.org

About Sesame Workshop

Sesame Workshop is the non-profit educational organization behind Sesame Street and Takalani Sesame, the pioneering television show that has been reaching and teaching children since 1969. Today, Sesame Workshop is an innovative force for change, with a mission to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. We’re present in more than 150 countries, serving vulnerable children through a wide range of media, formal education, and philanthropically funded social impact programs, each grounded in rigorous research and tailored to the needs and cultures of the communities we serve. Learn more at https://takalanisesame.org.za and follow Takalani Sesame on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

About Cotlands

Cotlands is a registered non-profit organisation that focuses on early childhood development with a rich heritage of 87 years of experience in serving young, vulnerable children. Cotlands’ vision is to see children thrive in their formative years by increasing their access to play-based early learning opportunities. Cotlands provides scalable and cost-effective toy libraries and early learning playgroups targeted at children from birth to six years. The organisation also provides workshops to parents, enabling them to conduct play-based learning and best practice principles in their home environments. For more information on Cotlands, visit: https://www.cotlands.org and follow @cotlands on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.


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