Child's play?

Not so long ago, all children went ‘out to play’. As long as it didn’t irritate the adults, no one took much notice of what they did. So they ran, jumped, climbed, made dens, played pretend games, learned how to judge and mange risks and generally familiarised themselves with the outdoor world. They developed their inborn capacities for creativity, problem-solving, social and communication skills, self-regulation and emotional resilence.

And then, about 25 years ago, everything changed. For a multitude of reasons – not least the traffic, changes in parental employment patterns and the breakdown of community engagement – children gradually stopped playing out. Instead they increasingly spent their leisure hours in indoor, sedentary, often screen-based pursuits. .. and from an increasingly early age.

It’s now clear that these changes have an adverse effect on children’s development. Many of Scotland’s young people have physical and mental health problems, while almost 30% of Scottish children now have educational ‘special needs’.

So times have changed, culture has changed… and it seems to be impacting on our children’s capacity to thrive.

Upstart Scotland is a grassroots campaign arguing that universal state services should change with the times, to ensure all children have experiences during their formative years that prepare them to survive and thrive.

Upstart wants a relationship-centred, play-based kindergarten stage for three- to seven-year-olds (similar to that in Nordic countries) which will give all Scotland’s under-sevens the opportunity to learn through play – especially the active, social, outdoor play that science now shows is vital to all-round development.

We can’t go on taking play for granted. Or thinking that sedentary, screen-based play can substitute for the active, social, outdoor play that lucky children have enjoyed throughout the millennia. Science now confirms ancient wisdom that ‘the first seven years are for play’.

Come and hear Sue Palmer speak more about the work of Upstart Scotland on Saturday 11 May at 2pm at New Kilpatrick Stables on Kirk Place (near 1st Bearsden BB Hall). In the Manse Garden that day Operation Play Outdoors will be hosting kids games - all welcome.

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