Play Revisited

Although the start of the school year might seem like an odd time to discuss play, it is in facts a critical time to do so. As school starts, demands on children’s time increase significantly, typically leaving much less time for play, especially unstructured play.

Yet play is a vital to child development. As Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg explains in an article in Pediatrics:

‘Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.… Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills…. Play is integral to the academic environment…. It has been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even to enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviors, and problem-solving skills.’

In other words, play is essential to the healthy development of children, and it enhances children’s capacity to succeed in school.

In addition, play is not just a good idea, it is also a human right—one that has been recognized since the beginning of the human rights movement. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundational document of the human rights movement adopted in 1948, states that: “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay” (Article 24). The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child—the most comprehensive treaty on children’s rights and the most widely-accepted human rights treaty in history—establishes that governments must “recognize the right of [every] child 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.”

There is a reason why certain things—from education to free speech to prohibitions on torture—are recognized as rights. They are deeply connected to the dignity inherent in each human being. Play and its breadth of developmental benefits sustain and enhance human dignity.  As policy makers, educators, and parents, our job is to ensure we secure every child’s right to play. And if we join them sometimes, we might even have fun too.

 

For more on play, here’s a link to a great source on play and its benefits: momlovesbest.

 

 

NEW PUBLICATION: The Trump Effect, Children and the Value of Human Rights Education

 

Abstract:

Since launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump's rhetoric has often been divisive as well as demeaning of selected groups. This article examines the impact of Trump's rhetoric on children and their communities and explores the role that human rights education can play in responding to Trump and forging broader support for human rights. The article reviews the research on human rights education and considers how human rights education can be embedded in broader efforts to educate children. Using children's literature as a case study, the article argues for the importance of mainstreaming human rights education and meeting children where they are, in order to foster greater recognition of and respect for the rights of all individuals.

Full citation and link to article: Jonathan Todres, "The Trump Effect, Children, and the Value of Human Rights Education," Family Court Review, 56(2): 331-343 (2018).

A draft of the chapter is also available on SSRN.

 

Fulbright in Ireland

I'm delighted to have received a Fulbright to conduct research and teach at University College Cork School of Law in Ireland for the Spring 2018 semester. I will be conducting research on human rights education for children, focusing on rights discourses in children’s literature and other spaces children inhabit. I also will be co-teaching an International Children's Rights course with Dean Ursula Kilkelly

I will post updates from time to time. In the meantime, here's a glimpse of the beautiful campus.

Campus_Jan18.jpg

The Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Platform for Improving Children’s Lives

 

Every child in the world ‘should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding’ and be raised ‘in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity’.  This bold vision, announced by the United Nations almost 30 years ago, was not merely aspirational – it was part of the foundation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Adopted in 1989, the Convention, or CRC, was the first comprehensive human rights treaty on children.

The CRC establishes a framework for ensuring the rights and well-being of all children. It covers both civil and political rights (such as freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment) and economic, social, and cultural rights (such as the right to education). It also includes rights unique to children (such as the right to know and be cared for by one’s parents).

A transformative human rights treaty

While the scope of the treaty is impressive, what makes the CRC potentially transformative is that it establishes a legal mandate. This means governments must respect and ensure the rights of every child,  and conversely, children—and their parents or other caregivers acting on their behalf—can use the CRC to insist that governments do not violate their rights.

Since the advent of the CRC we have witnessed dramatic progress on many issues affecting children. Globally, under-five child mortality has declined by more than half, from approximately 12.7 million children annually to fewer than six million. School enrolment has increased, and child labour has dropped.

Although these are reasons to celebrate, a lot of work remains. Far too many young children die each year from malnutrition and other preventable causes. Universal primary education, while closer to reality, has yet to be realised. And progress on child labour has slowed.  What’s more, the global numbers mask disparities across and within countries. In some areas – especially armed conflicts – children continue to suffer multiple rights violations. Governments must do more to fulfil the CRC’s mandate.

Children flourish when their rights are respected

Successful implementation of the CRC requires greater emphasis on the treaty’s core provisions: The best interests of the child must inform all actions concerning children (Article 3), and the rights in the treaty must be assured to all children without discrimination of any kind (Article 2). Every provision of the CRC is relevant to ensuring each child can develop to his or her full potential. That said, two CRC ideas are particularly noteworthy:

  • Article 12 establishes that children have the right to express their views “in all matters affecting the child” and to have their views be given “due weight” in accordance with their age and maturity. This means that youth have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Equally important, youth participation improves outcomes. Children and adolescents can offer insights that are critical to the success of policies and programmes for children. Policy makers and other adults must include children more to ensure their input.
  • The CRC says that the family is ‘the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children’. Nineteen provisions of the CRC recognise the vital role of parents and the family in the lives of children. Supporting children’s rights means advancing policies and programmes that support families and address systemic issues that make it difficult for children and their families to realise their rights.

Honouring children’s rights

Recognising children’s agency and inherent dignity while supporting families honours children’s rights in a way that is responsive to children’s development

Given the CRC places the primary legal obligation on the state, it’s fair to ask how each of us can support children’s rights. Eleanor Roosevelt once stated that universal human rights begin ‘in small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world... Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.’

Each of us can support and strengthen children’s rights by beginning close to home. We can engage children in a dialogue about rights (their own and the rights of others). We can advocate for children’s rights.  And, most important of all, we can listen to and ensure that all children are heard on matters that affect their lives.

 

This essay was first published on the Amnesty International UK website.

Share My Lesson profile

I'm honored to have been profiled on the Share My Lesson website for my work on human rights in children's literature. 

See below for an excerpt and link to the full profile:

We are certain that being English language arts teachers has helped illuminate how much a kindred spirit Jonathan Todres has become to us. However, being a teacher is not a requirement when considering the importance of his work and all of the possible applications in and out of any content-area classroom. Read on to find out how literature and the imagination have grown central to Todres’ work with children’s rights and beyond....  To continue reading, click  here .

We are certain that being English language arts teachers has helped illuminate how much a kindred spirit Jonathan Todres has become to us. However, being a teacher is not a requirement when considering the importance of his work and all of the possible applications in and out of any content-area classroom. Read on to find out how literature and the imagination have grown central to Todres’ work with children’s rights and beyond....

To continue reading, click here.

Children's Rights World Cafe -- Symposium

I was delighted to participated in a children's rights symposium at Ryerson University in Toronto on June 15-16, 2017. The symposium brought together a dynamic, diverse group of scholars and professionals who focus on children's rights, higher rights education, and related issues. 

The symposium was organized by the Ryerson School of Early Childhood Studies

Visual art representation of some of the dialogue at the symposium

Visual art representation of some of the dialogue at the symposium

The Importance of Human Rights Education

I recently returned from the Global Summit on Childhood in San Jose, Costa Rica, where hundreds of educators had gathered to explore innovative ways to foster child development and learning. Home to the UN-mandated University for Peace and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Costa Rica—which also abolished its armed forces constitutionally in 1949—was a fitting location to reflect on and exchange creative ideas about educating young people.  And it provided numerous reminders of the importance of human rights education.

Though it often receives less public attention than human rights litigation and policy initiatives, human rights education has been a part of international human rights law since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 26(2) of the Universal Declaration reads: “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”

Subsequent human rights treaties—from the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights to the Convention on the Rights of the Child—all mandate and reinforce the importance of education aimed at strengthening respect for human rights, tolerance, and peace.  

Human rights education, however, means more than educating about human rights. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, adopted in 2011, establishes that human rights education encompasses three critical concepts:

(a) Education about human rights, which includes providing knowledge and understanding of human rights norms and principles, the values that underpin them and the mechanisms for their protection;

(b) Education through human rights, which includes learning and teaching in a way that respects the rights of both educators and learners;

(c) Education for human rights, which includes empowering persons to enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others

In short, creating rights-respecting learning environments and educating individuals in ways that empower them as human rights actors are as important as transmitting knowledge of human rights norms.

It is critical that human rights education receive greater attention and be incorporated more broadly in school curricula in the United States and elsewhere. Research on human rights education demonstrates its capacity to produce numerous positive outcomes for children and adolescents, including an improved sense of self-worth, increased empathy, and a reduction in bullying and harmful behaviors in classrooms. In the end, if people are not taught about their rights and the rights of others, how will they be able to realize their own rights or effectively advocate for others?  

For additional resources on human rights education, click here.

First published on Human Rights at Home blog.