Teaching children human rights through play

The Britannia Community Services Centre recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of Play It Fair!, an educational program developed by Equitas, a Canadian non-profit organization whose mandate is to promote equality, social justice and human rights throughout Canada and the world. The Play It Fair! Toolkit aims to teach children aged six to 12 human rights values through experiential learning, or play.

Left to right: Celine McCaughran Contreras, Emma Carrigan, Jamie Smith, Ricky Tu and Alicia French. | Photo courtesy of Richard Frank

Tom Higashio, Recreational Programmer for Youth at the Britannia Community Centre, has been involved in implementing the program as part of Britannia’s day camps since its first formal pilot at the centre in 2006.

“As soon as I saw how effective it was and how easy the Toolkit was to use, I was hooked, ” he says. “I have always been a human and children’s rights advocate but the installation of the program really excited me. I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in.”

Experiential learning opportunities for children

The Play It Fair! Toolkit takes games that children know and love and adapts them in order to provide an informal educational experience in human rights.

Higashio gives the example of musical chairs. Typically this game is about exclusion and competition but a Play It Fair! adaption of the game has the children co-operate and develop strategies to get everyone onto the chairs. The game ends with a discussion about the inclusion and exclusion involved in the games and how these concepts may apply to real life.

Every Play It Fair! game is followed by a discussion. For Higashio, this is one of the most vital components of the learning experience.

“If anything, the discussion’s the most important thing. You can go through the activity and experience it but unless you actually know why you’re experiencing it you’re not really learning,” he says.

Higashio says they’re seeing results in the children’s behaviour.

“There’s a lot more natural empathy,” he says.

He says the Toolkit’s activities, used both proactively and reactively in the day camps, have successfully been used to reduce bullying and help the children deal with anger in real life conflicts.

Program extends beyond children

Higashio says staff members at Britannia have also been influenced by their involvement with Play It Fair!. Some staff have gone on to become human rights journalists, educators who use Play It Fair! in their classrooms, or human rights advocates in their communities, both formally and informally.

“It may have started at Britannia but it’s expanded so much more than that,” Higashio says.

Ela Esra Gunad, Regional Program Officer of Equitas B.C., says that some organizations like Britannia have gone as far as to integrate the principles of the program into their hiring process and have even started to involve children in the development of the programs that they will ultimately be affected by.

“In the end, all these small changes are leading to a very big change at the community level,” Gunad says.

It is through the result of its visible success that Play It Fair! has spread across organizations, Canada and even internationally after the program first began in Montreal ten years ago. The program is now practiced in 48 communities across Canada and has been used in the Middle East, Jordan, Africa and Latin America, reaching an estimated 700,000 children across the world.

Through programs such as this, Equitas aims to provide human rights educators with the concrete tools they need to implement the principles laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a mission that spurred the establishment of the organization in 1967 when it was founded by a group of scholars and social activists including John Humphrey, co-drafter of the UDHR.

Higashio sees tools like Play It Fair! as instrumental in creating a society where acceptance of diversity and human rights are normalized.

“In the end, we want to have a respectful community that’s really accepting of everyone, where people value everybody for who they are just naturally. It’s where we all want and need to be,” he says.

Both Higashio and Gunad hope that Play It Fair!’s influence will continue to grow and that it will one day be implemented at a curriculum level across Canada.

For more information, please
visit www.equitas.org.