International Play Association World

International Play Association World

The International Play Association (IPA) World is a global non-government organization that protects, preserves, and promotes the child's fundamental human right to play. IPA World identifies negative trends affecting children's development worldwide and proposes remedies that involve better housing and community planning and meeting the children's needs for health, education, welfare, and leisure.1 It is particularly concerned where these needs are met through play.

What began as a concern about quality play opportunities in Scandinavia in the 1930s grew to involve Europe as well. A 1955 seminar on playgrounds held in Europe pointed out the need for an international approach. In 1961, the International Play Association was created in Copenhagen, Denmark, with an emphasis on providing adventure playgrounds.2

Ten years later the IPA Board began to work with the United Nations’ organizations of Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the United Nations’ Children's Fund (UNICEF). Consequently, the International Play Association was appointed as a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations.3

In anticipation of the United Nations’ International Year of the Child in 1979, the International Play Association produced the Declaration of the Child's Right to Play at the 1977 Malta Consultation. The IPA International Council revised the Declaration in both 1982 and 1989. The Declaration states that children are the world's future and that spontaneous play is one of their basic needs for development. It further defines play as a combination of thought and action that is instinctive, historical, and which teaches children how to live.4

At the 1989 General Assembly of the United Nations, the International Play Association was influential in seeing “play” included in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It reads: “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. That member governments shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”5

The International Play Association began to reach beyond their European beginning in 1979 when they held their conference in Ottawa, Canada. Since then their triennial conferences have been held worldwide to reflect their global focus.6 The IPA has a small Board of Directors, five Regional Vice Presidents, and a Council of national representatives.7 It has national organizations in many countries including the International Play Association USA founded in 1973 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 2008, the International Play Association and seven international organizations petitioned the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child to issue a General Comment on the right to play. Some of the co-petitioners were the Right to Play International, World Leisure Association, International Council on Children's Play, and the World Organization for Early Childhood Education. After forwarding research findings on the importance of play and with ongoing lobbying, in 2011, the UN Committee agreed to draft and adopt a General Comment.8

One of IPA World's special projects was the publication Children's Right to Play: an examination of the importance of play in the lives of children worldwide, which was commissioned by the International Play Association and funded by the Bernard van Leer Foundation. Other achievements of IPA World are the publishing of PlayRights Magazine twice a year, a website presence, seminars, conferences, study tours, playwork training, research, and the organization of play programs. They have also held conferences every three years since their founding in 1961 on such topics as recreation and play, creative play, urban play, and adventure playgrounds.9

  • 1. “IPA Declaration of the Child's Right to Play.” IPA World. < > 8 Sep. 2011.
  • 2. “History.” IPA World. < > 8 Sep 2011.
  • 3. Op.cit., “IPA Declaration of the Child's Right to Play.”
  • 4. Op.cit., “IPA Declaration of the Child's Right to Play.”
  • 5. “About IPA.” IPA World. < > 8 Sep 2011.
  • 6. Op.cit., “History.”
  • 7. Op.cit., “About IPA.”
  • 8. 2008-2011 IPA Triennial Report.” IPA World. < > 8 Sep 2011.
  • 9. Ibid.