Information on the Department of Education's play and leisure policy, its play and leisure implementation plan and its Play Matters campaign.

Play and leisure policy 

The right to play and leisure is an intrinsic entitlement of childhood (Article 31, UNCRC). Play is a natural and universal drive in childhood. It is an essential element and contributory factor to supporting children’s physical and emotional well-being, growth, learning and development. Play can support children’s creativity and cultural awareness. Play can be structured, non-structured, formal and non–formal. Through play children explore the world around them and learn to take responsibility for their own choices.

In January 2009, the Executive agreed and published the Play and Leisure Policy Statement that set out how children and young people’s right to rest, play and join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and leisure activities could be promoted.  This was supported by the Play and Leisure Implementation Plan.  In May 2016, the play and leisure policy remit transferred from the former OFMDFM to the Department of Education. 

Play and leisure implementation plan

The play and leisure implementation plan aims to see a high value placed on play and improved play and leisure facilities for all children and young people in order to support their development, enjoyment and growth. The plan was published in 2011.

The new Children and Young People’s Strategy recognises that the enjoyment of play and leisure is a key outcome that the Executive wish to deliver in order to improve the well-being of our children and young people.  There is an evidence base which shows that participation in play, leisure, arts and cultural activities makes a positive contribution to the mental, emotional, social and physical well-being of children and young people. 

As the Children and Young People’s Strategy is implemented, further consideration will be required as to how new play and leisure opportunities could be promoted.   Providing all children, including those with a disability and those living in marginalised, vulnerable or disadvantaged situations, with safe, accessible, inclusive spaces for play and socialisation has many benefits in terms of physical and mental health, education, skills development and the increasing of social confidence as well as contributing to wider community cohesion. 

    Play Matters             

    Funded through the Early Intervention Transformation Programme (EITP) the Children and Young People’s Strategy Team in the Department of Education are excited to be progressing a Play and Leisure Project aptly titled ‘Play Matters!’

    The Play and Leisure project aims to ensure that policy makers, practitioners and parents understand that play is a vital part of childhood and is necessary for children and young people’s overall healthy development.  The key beneficiaries of the project will include children and young people, parents, families and wider communities.

    One of the best ways for children to stay both physically and mentally healthy is through access to a variety of unstructured play opportunities.  The Play & Leisure project being taken forward promotes the concept of play which is freely chosen and self-directed by children and which has no particular goal.  This is a really exciting initiative and a fabulous opportunity to highlight how important play is amongst parents, professionals and policymakers.

    Play Matters to everyone and through the project we plan to work with a range of key stakeholders to deliver a robust programme of activity including play specific training, play modelling and play advocacy and messaging.  Key play messages, targeted at parents and professionals alike will be promoted throughout the project encouraging individuals to consider just how important play is for children and young people.

    If you would like more information on the project contact John McCrea at

    Play Matters leaflets

    Back to top