Montreal, Canada

Play It Fair!

Equitas -- International Centre for Human Rights Education

June 26, 2009

Using a human rights approach to teach children about equality and respect for diversity

“All the girls with green on their t-shirts go to Jupiter!”

“Now, everyone with curly hair or who wears glasses go to Saturn!”

As these instructions are called out, a group of twenty boys and girls between 6-8 years old race between two cones (one labeled Jupiter and the other Saturn) , which are set in a local playing field about 20 meters apart.

As the game winds down and the children collapse in a circle on the grass, Monique, the camp counselor sits down with them and opens up a discussion. She asks questions such as:

  • Did any of you end up alone on a planet during the game?
  • Did you have a hard time knowing which planet you were supposed to go to?
  • How did being stuck between the two make you feel?
  • And, What did you end up doing when that happened?

This game, “From Saturn to Jupiter” is designed to promote an understanding of diversity by helping children become aware that while members of a group are all different, they also have many things in common and are fundamentally equal in terms of their human rights

It is just one of the many activities available in Play It Fair! an educational toolkit developed by Equitas, a Canadian NGO working to advance democracy, human development, peace and social justice through its human rights-based programs.

A Focus on the Future

Developed in collaboration with the City of Montreal, the Play It Fair! program is designed for children and youth between the ages of 6-12 years old and is used at summer day camps and after-school activities in several Canadian communities. The program has developed more than 60 games and activities to promote the core human rights values of cooperation, respect, fairness, inclusion, respect for diversity, responsibility and acceptance.

The games and activities in Play It Fair! serve as an early-intervention tool since they help children develop positive and constructive responses to conflict. The toolkit also includes specific training for counsellors and teachers who are brought to Montreal from across Canada to undergo a training session.

The Play It Fair! toolkit was originally developed by Equitas as part of the project “Preventing Racism and Discrimination: Preparing Canadian Children to Engage in a Multicultural Society”  undertaken with municipal agencies and community organizations involved in non-formal education programs for children and youth.

Its human-rights approach has been successful because it emphasizes commonality amongst children while teaching respect for difference. This essentially equitable and democratic approach appeals to children’s innate desire for fairness and invests in them the values and skills required to help build a more cohesive and equitable society for the future.


According to Fréderic Hareau, Equitas’ Senior Program Officer, the program is effective because it engages children on a level that is age-appropriate while encouraging them to share their feelings during after-game discussions. “The children become much more conscious of difference and sameness and the games reinforce underlying human rights values, which promote a more harmonious society where everyone is respected.”

Some of the most common issues encountered by children include name-calling, bullying and racism, but Hareau believes change is possible.” In one borough of Montreal where the program was used,” he notes, “there was a reported decrease in physical aggression after a year’s use among 6-12 year olds.” Hareau also mentions that the use of racial slurs and absenteeism also became less common among the children.

In Toronto, David Hains, supervisor of community recreation with the City’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation division, is also convinced of the program’s merits. As a result, he’s pleased to see it break ground in Toronto where it has already reached 5,000 children. Last year, the program was implemented at 30 summer camps in Toronto; projections for 2009 are set for 100. And that’s not all….

“By the summer of 2010, we’re hoping to have the program running in all of Toronto’s approximately 130 summer camps in addition to some after-school programs,” Hains explains. “It’s been a great way to teach important life lessons to children and the biggest draw is that it’s done through a variety of fun games, which the children love.”

Play It Fair! has also successfully travelled to other cities across Canada and is now being used by children in Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg and Fredericton, Moncton and Dieppe in New Brunswick. Camp counsellors in all of these cities have confirmed that the games in the Play it Fair! toolkit help to reinforce the importance of having children respect one another. They always cite a decrease in verbal abuse, violence and intimidation and a marked improvement in team-spirit and participation. By 2008, the Play It Fair! toolkit had been used in over 200 camps and approximately 2,000 instructors and over 40,000 children had been reached.

First Nations post-script

The program is also winning admirers with Canada’s First Nations community. Ma Mawi, a Winnipeg-based organization that works with First Nations families began using Play It Fair! in 2006.

“The program was easy to adapt”, says Sande MacKinnon, a former youth program coordinator who still maintains an affiliation with Ma Mawi. “We stressed the similarities between human rights values and those of our own culture, and the children really liked that.”

“The program’s incredibly effective,” MacKinnon says. “As instructors, we’re not only teaching, but we’re learning ourselves. Children have so much to say and they need to be given back their voices. This program really helps with that.”

Most recently, in May 2009, the success of the Play if Fair! program in Montreal won Equitas the Anne Greenup Prize at this year’s Prix Québécois de la citoyenneté at the National Assembly in Quebec City. The Anne Greenup prize recognizes contributions in the fight against racism by a non-profit organization.

Making it Work for You:

  • Important lessons, such as learning about human rights, can be taught just as successfully with humour and playfulness.
  • Think about how best to deliver your message to the audience you are addressing and be willing to modify your approach to achieve greater impact.
  • When a range of activities is available to address program delivery needs, take care to match the activities you choose to the target audience served. Not all strategies will work with every target group.
  • Like Canada's First Nations community at Ma Mawi in Winnipeg, you can incorporate cultural content into program materials to increase their power to communicate with your target audience; for example, the way Ma Mawi used the similarities between universal human rights and First Nations' values.