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Sankofa: Lessons from a 50-year-old Photo Essay titled Playtime in Africa

A visionary 1960's photo essay titled Playtime in Africa by W. Bell and E. Sutherland showcased modern Ghanaian children playing with creativity and imagination in both urban and rural settings. 50 years on, this small gem still has the capacity to both delight and provide relevant insights for early childhood development today.

Photo of Amowi Phillips
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Sankofa is an Akan (Ghanaian language) word which literally means "go back and take". This cultural principle reminds us to recall, preserve and use what is of value from the past. Playtime in Africa is out of print, so images are linked.  Its value is not in pages of research and analysis, but in strong images and simple words which speak the universal language of childhood play. Enjoy!



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Photo of Mariana del Carmen Somma

Hi Amowi, I am fascinated by this topic too! It seems that children in underdeveloped areas lose a sense of "play" because of having to help with household chores, school, and helping generate income for their families... do you find this to be true? If there are opportunities for community- based extracurricular activities, is that geared more towards boys vs girls?

Photo of Amowi Phillips

Hello Mariana, and thanks for this important insight! We also think that girls experience a greater play deficit than boys, partly for the reasons you suggest, and possibly because of safety concerns as well - see for example the gender imbalance on our Pinterest board of self-made toys and outdoor play here -

At Mmofra Foundation our community-based extra-curricular activities are well balanced between girls and boys, and we are careful to ensure that there are good mentors and piay facilitators of both genders -

Photo of Laura Lighty

The gender imbalance aside, thank you for including your pinterest board Amowi! It is amazing the creativity children have and the objects/toys they can create from their surroundings.

Photo of Amowi Phillips

Laura, thanks - the "Galimoto Self-Made Toys" board is one of our favorites! We're committed to curating online content that is relevant to the lives of kids in Africa, so that as and when they gain connectivity they can find themselves included in digital storytelling.

Do you notice the glaring absence of middle- to upper income children? We have been asking ourselves what the reasons could be for this. Are toys made only by children whose parents cannot afford to buy them? Are relatively privileged kids exercising their creativity indoors or within private households and therefore not as readily photographed?

Would be interested in other views on this:

Photo of Laura Lighty

Amowi - wow, what a great mission to have!

I do notice this. These are great questions to ask, and I will be keeping them in mind in my own research on this subject of play. My instincts are that the answer's yes to all your questions, but again, just an instinct.

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