Play Preserves Culture

As the world becomes more connected in the Cyber Age, global culture often displaces local traditions. ChildsPlay International helps to pass on tradition from the eldest to the younger generations. We help reverse this trend by encouraging children to celebrate indigenous songs, dances, stories and games.


In February 2020, just before the global pandemic temporarily halted CPI activities, we worked with the school system in Osiem, Ghana on a project focused on passing cultural traditions from the elders to the youngest generation. The project, called Sankofa, was organized by Bismark Otchere, the middle school teacher.

Sankofa is an Africa concept meaning we should retrieve things of value from our knowledge of the past, symbolized by a bird looking backward, with an egg in its mouth.

‘Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. The literal translation of the word and the symbol is “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

Children learned and practiced traditional dances and songs. In all middle schools, children learned the history of Akhan clan symbols by drawing and painting them.

The program culminated in an evening around a campfire, with “talking drums” (a traditional form of communication to local villages, now facing extinction) which summoned a crowd of about 1,000 people. Presided over by the village king and queen, an elder told how the village of Osiem came into existence The audience, both adults and children, asked to have this history written down. The children’s drawings are being used to teach in the middle schools about regional tribal culture.


In Peru, CPI helped children “translate” traditional stories into colorful paintings and drawings. As a result, they were free to make the culture their own — to personalize myth, legend, and folklore into depictions that resonated with each of them individually. The experience called on a type of creativity only elicited by play.


In Kenya, CPI helped children organize into traditional singing groups. Soon, however, the songs revealed whole conversations, a back-and-forth reminiscent of traditional call-and-response. These songs became a spontaneous, group-wide narrative, demonstrating the kids’ desire to share their own stories. It was a remarkable, joint creative effort — not mere rote repetition — and reinforced the kids’ determination to persevere in the face of an HIV epidemic.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, CPI encouraged girls to perform traditional dances. Again, the children personalized the tradition — choosing their own music, even as they embodied age-old movement. The girls were disciplined, but still playful, joyful, and creative. This fusion of the old with the new revivified the tradition as it was interpreted by the next generation.

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