The Importance of Child-Friendly Spaces

November 23, 2015

My research work and interests have taken me down the path of child-friendly spaces.  Earlier this month I gave a presentation on the importance of child spaces for children in Fiji and also had an article published in Mai Life magazine on how necessary third spaces are for children. Spaces for children, that are child-friendly, collaborative and engaged can make a difference across a variety of contexts. Three such contexts include children who are not in school, children in conflict zones and children in areas affected by natural disasters.

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Children’s Reading Space, Levuka, Fiji (photo credit: Levuka Community Centre)

Children Out of School and Home. In Fiji, there appears to be two main spaces in which children live their childhoods: the home, with their family and the school. All other activities tied to childhood like sports, friendship circles, religious activities and so on are tied heavily to the home and the school. Yet not all children go to school. With so much focus on developing childhoods around the home and school we forget about children who aren’t living their childhoods in either of these spaces. Take for instance children on the streets. Third, or alternative spaces (to the home and school), such as the children’s reading room we support provide another space that children can access.

Child Friendly Space Amani-5 years CFS in "AL Marej Tented Settlements" "I'm trying to build a room- It reminds me of my room in our house in Syria. This is the only place that makes me happy- there's a lot of toys here."

5 year old Amani at a World Vision child-friendly space in the “AL Marej Tented Settlements”. Amani explains, “I’m trying to build a room. It reminds me of my room in our house in Syria. This is the only place that makes me happy – there’s a lot of toys here.” (photo credit: Ralph Baydoun, World Vision) 

Children in Conflict Areas. While I have no direct experience working with children in conflict areas, as a World Vision Blog Ambassador I am aware of the work World Vision does with children in these areas. There are children in countries like South Sudan, Syria and Gaza who live in environments where they experience extreme conflict or are refugees. World Vision psychosocial specialist Alison Schafer explains, “it is a common misconception that young children do not understand stressful or violent events and so are not as affected as adults. Their young minds process much more than is often credited.” Children simply experience events (conflict, poverty, natural disasters) differently to adults.

Children learn songs and dance at World Vision's Child-Friendly Space in Binu community. Summary: Following severe flooding that swept through the Guadalcanal Plains, Solomon Islands, in early April 2014 World Vision established 10 Women-Friendly Spaces (WFS) to provide privacy and support to more than 1,200 women. Child-Friendly Spaces (CFS) were established alongside WFS to allow women to enjoy the WFS knowing their children are having fun close by. More than 900 children are benefitting from the CFSs, which provide a safe place where children can regain a sense of normalcy and participate in early childhood education activities. See updates on WVRelief.

Children learning songs and dances at World Vision’s Child-Friendly Space in the Binu community, Solomon Islands (photo credit: Suzanne Wargo, World Vision)

Children in Areas Affected by Natural Disasters. As a Pacific Islander I’m well aware of the consequences of natural disasters on communities. Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu significantly affected the country, especially children. Following the severe flooding that affected the Guadalcanal Plains in the Solomon Islands in April 2014, World Vision established Child-Friendly Spaces where over 900 children benefited from a space where they could regain a sense of normalcy and participate in early childhood education activities.

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Child-friendly space, Nepal. (photo credit: World Vision)

World Vision’s response during the Nepal earthquake included child-friendly spaces that catered to both the immediate emotional and practical needs of children. Protected spaces like these help children come to terms with their loss and offer a place of calm amidst the chaos.

These spaces allow children to play and learn where regardless of their lived realities (be it out of school children, refugees or children’s whose lives have been changed by natural disasters) they can just be children. Some of these spaces have the additional purpose of educating children and raising awareness about issues like education, hygiene and sanitation. All within an environment that is safe and inclusive, often in direct contrast to their everyday lives. As adults we’re easily able to access alternative spaces and communities like coffee shops, sporting groups, religious organisations independently. Children on the other hand cannot and rely on organisations like World Vision to provide them with access to alternative spaces of play, learning and childhoods.

You can help support World Vision’s child-friendly spaces and work with children by helping World Vision with toys and gifts for children and early learning for indigenous children.

You can find more of my posts for World Vision here.

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