The Scottish Government's vision for children and young people is clear: for Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up.
Children's play is crucial to Scotland's wellbeing; socially, economically and environmentally. Our people are our greatest resource and the early years of life set the pattern for children's future development. 'The experiences children have in early life - and the environments in which they have them - shape their developing brain architecture and strongly affect whether they grow up to be healthy, productive members of society' (Harvard University, 2007). Play is an essential part of a happy, healthy childhood and 'when children play their brains do two things: they grow and the become organised and usable' (Hughes, 2013). By investing in all our children and young people now we can strengthen their ability to achieve their full potential.
"Play creates a brain that has increased flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life"
(Lester & Russell, 2008)
"Play opens up possibilities in the brain that may be picked up later or discarded; the important feature is that the potential is kept alive, more so than if play never occurred in the first place"
(Lester and Russell, 2007)
Scotland's first national Play Strategy will contribute directly to all of our National Outcomes and specifically to ensure our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed, and our young people are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.
'Children's play provides a primary behaviour for developing resilience, thereby making a significant contribution to children's well-being' (Lester and Russell, 2007) which is a key concept in our Getting It Right For Every Child approach. This underpins and supports all of our policies for children and young people. This Strategy will complement our proposals in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill and further supports our three main social policy frameworks; the Early Years Framework, Equally Well, and Achieving our Potential.
To a child, play is about having fun, but to society it is much more. Play is essential to healthy development from birth to adulthood, contributing to capacity for learning, resilience and the development of physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills. With improved health and educational outcomes come clear economic benefits. Scotland's Chief Medical Officer is very clear about the importance of play, stating that investing in children's play is one of the most important things we can do to improve children's health and wellbeing in Scotland. Furthermore, the right to play is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). All children and young people should have play experiences as part of their daily lives.
We all have a role in realising Scotland's vision for play as individuals, parents or carers, members of communities or professionals, by ensuring all children and young people can access play opportunities in a range of different settings which offer variety, adventure and challenge. They must be able to play freely and safely while learning to manage risks and make choices about where, how and when they play according to their age, ability and preference.
We have an ambitious vision for play to be fully realised in Scotland, and it is one which we can achieve together. Scotland is rich with a professional, qualified and well-led play workforce who are passionate and driven and have our children's health and wellbeing at the very core of their professional lives. Beyond that, our health workers, early learning and childcare staff, teachers, youth workers and plethora of out of school care professionals all have a key role in delivering the outcomes of this Strategy. We will publish an action plan later this year which will set out our collective vision for achieving this.
"Play seems to serve important social, emotional, and cognitive functions"