This holiday season, UNICEF celebrates the power of play to help children learn and grow.
The first five years of life have a significant and lasting effect on a child’s life. That's because children’s brains grow faster in early childhood than at any other time, forming up to 1,000 neural connections every second. These connections are the building blocks of every child's future. When nurtured in loving, safe and stimulating environments — in which joyful play has a central role — children develop the cognitive, emotional and behavioral skills needed to embrace opportunity and bounce back from adversity.
Julia plays with her daughter Dania, 1, who has a motor delay condition, during a free therapy session at a UNICEF-supported early childhood center in Chisinau, Moldova, June 2011. The center helps foster quality mother-child interaction and promotes social inclusion of children with disabilities. © UNICEF/UNI114899/Holt
South Sudanese refugees play in Uganda’s Bidibidi settlement, March 2017. Adversity early in life can lead to problems learning and managing emotions. Nutrition, protection and the stimulation that comes from interactive play, talk and loving care can help put all children on the path to a healthy future. © UNICEF/UN070268/Ose
Mohammad, 1, and his father, Abdul, play with a ball at an emergency shelter hosting refugees in Vienna, Austria, December 2015. Young children such as Mohammad who live in an environment with engaged and supportive caregivers have a buffer that helps them cope in times of stress. © UNICEF/UN05466/Gilbertson VII Photo
M. Sarangoo, 20 months, is captivated as she plays with animal figurines in her family’s home in Mongolia’s northern Khövsgöl province, October 2012. M. Sarangoo’s father is her primary caregiver when her mother is at work. Stable and caring relationships are essential for healthy child development. © UNICEF/UNI134445/Sokol
Orin, 4, and his cousin Skye, 3, pretend to make tea on a stove at his former preschool, in Dangriga, southeast Belize, August 2016. Pretend play helps children develop their executive functions and their ability to regulate their thoughts and emotions. © UNICEF/UN035781/LeMoyne
Abner, 2, and Melisha, a facilitator from the UNICEF-sponsored Roving Caregivers Program, play at his home in San Felipe village, Belize, August 2016. Melisha conducts visits children like Abner who have no access to early childhood education to engage in age-appropriate stimulating activities through play. © UNICEF/UN032037/LeMoyne
Conzuelo pushes her great-granddaughter Allizon, 4, on a homemade swing in Cayo District, Belize, August 2016. Because Allizon’s mother works full-time, Conzuelo is Allizon’s primary caregiver and spends many hours playing with her every day.
Glenda holds up a book for her daughter, Tyra, 2, in the learning space she created at her home near Punta Gorda, Belize, August 2016. Families such as Glenda’s, who live in hard-to-reach locations, are often unable to send their children to preschool, holding back their cognitive development. © UNICEF/UN034621/LeMoyne
Alishia, 3, plays with her brother Andrew, 17, and cousin KJ in a park in Belize City, Belize, August 2016. © UNICEF/UN033876/LeMoyne
Banner photo at top: Two young girls play happily on the banks of the Luapala river at sunset in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. © UNICEF/UN0146626/Schermbrucker