SECTION 3: WHY PLAY MATTERS
To a child play is about having fun. To society it's so much more. Children's play is crucial to Scotland's wellbeing, socially, economically and environmentally.
The importance of play in children and young people's daily lives and to healthy development has become increasingly recognised in recent years. A growing body of evidence supports the view that playing, throughout childhood, is not only an innate behaviour but also contributes to quality of life, sense of wellbeing and is a key element in effective learning, thereby developing their physical, cognitive, emotional and social skills. 'The research suggests that, from the first stages of growth through to adulthood, play has a central role in developing strong attachments. Play between caregiver and infant helps establish the neural pathways for developing wider attachments with other children and adults' (Lester and Russell, 2007).
The type of environment for play is also important, having an impact on children and young people's experiences, choices and relationships, both with other people and with the environment itself. In particular, outdoor play especially in natural spaces is beneficial and provides experiences which cannot be replicated indoors.
Children and young people need adults to encourage and facilitate their play, whilst not inhibiting their opportunities for freedom and choice. This means that everyone involved in planning, designing and managing local streets, open spaces and parks such as early learning and childcare staff, youth workers, teachers and play practitioners, parents, carers and local residents, particularly those willing to offer their services as volunteers, can all have a major impact on children and young people's play opportunities.
"There is a body of evidence which demonstrates the effectiveness of play in promoting problem-solving abilities"
The Early Years Framework is very clear about the importance of positive parenting in the early years and our National Parenting Strategy clearly emphasises to parents, carers and practitioners the benefits of play, from stimulating our babies from day one, to creating opportunities for all children and young people to explore, be active and enjoy the learning opportunities provided by play throughout their lives.
Seeing the difference play can make in a child's development is delightful and benefits the whole family through supporting bonding and building relationships. Play allows children to experience and make sense of their world, to challenge themselves, practise skills and manage their emotions, interact with others or enjoy time alone. Numerous studies, including Growing Up In Scotland show play to be a crucial factor in a child's educational achievement. The benefits from playing and having fun cannot be underestimated.
Creating an environment that provides rich play experiences is critical in meeting the needs of our children and young people. Offering them choices to develop the skills of expression, thought, curiosity, movement, problem solving and achievement provides a sound basis for fostering the development of useful skills and attributes which will serve them well throughout life. As children grow they can continue to hone these skills contributing to family life and the wider community through shared activities and hobbies, sport, recreation and leisure activities, developing management and leadership skills and supporting younger children to participate.