The Early Years Framework

Steps the Scottish Government, local partners and practitioners in early years services need to take to give all children in Scotland the best start in life.

8. Improving outcomes and children's quality of life through play

The case for change highlights children's rights and children's quality of life. Alongside high quality services, this broader experience of childhood will have an important role to play in helping them to be successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. There is evidence that these areas contribute to good health and a lower incidence of violent and risk-taking behaviour in later life.

We need to ensure that parents, communities and professionals recognise the value and long-term benefits of play and to promote how critical play and the arts are for children's development. This is true not just in terms of physical health but also in terms of developing resilience and mental wellbeing.

We need to recognise children's own aspirations for play, not what adults think they should be doing and to recognise that play takes many forms, not just play parks.

But we also have to recognise that play and developing the right attitudes to play are not the sole responsibility of national or local government. Parents have a key role here, particularly with regard to the issue of concerns about their children's safety and exposure to risk.

While we must act to limit young children's exposure to risks they cannot control, giving children responsibility and allowing them to explore the world in a way that is appropriate to their age and development in a way that they can control is a key part of developing confidence. There is a feeling that, in recent times, there has been too much focus on eliminating all risk to children rather than understanding risk. We must reverse this trend and equip children with the skills to manage risk and make positive choices based on assessing the situation facing them.

Broxburn Family Centre - the benefits of play for individual children

Play is essential for our children if they are to have the best start in life and be ready to succeed as adults. Through play children thrive as they develop self-confidence, social skills and an awareness of their impact on others and the world around them.

An excellent example of achieving these outcomes is the case of B, a child who suffered a brain injury at birth, resulting in mild cerebral palsy, ADHD and behavioural difficulties and who started attending Broxburn Family Centre aged 2.

B was often unable to cope with the structured environment of nursery and school and teachers often found B's behaviour difficult to cope with. In a play setting, however, B thrived. Through playing with his peers B was given the freedom, space and support, to explore his relationships, discover empathy and explore social boundaries. B has demonstrated more confidence, improved his social skills and developed a better awareness of the world around him.

Now in his later primary years, B still has some key challenges ahead of him but it is through engaging in sustained play opportunities that B has thrived and been given the best start in life.

Play - the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery, Fife

The Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery is a community-led project, registered by the Care Commission that offers a full-time outdoor pre-school care service. Their vision is to provide a spacious play environment in local woodland and countryside that offers the child an opportunity to develop curiosity and learning through engagement with nature, the seasons and the elements.

With child- and adult-made structures that offer shelter and warmth, the Secret Garden believes that each child will be made to feel comfortable within the natural environment regardless of the weather. Their staff facilitate a unique opportunity for local children to grow from and with nature.

Priority of places is given to children from within the catchment area of Letham Primary School and existing clients. The minimum session offered to families is one full day which allows for the social, emotional, intellectual, creative and physical needs of the children to be met.

Structure for children

The structure of the day is organised so that the children have a varied amount of play and rest time.

At the start of the day when the children have just arrived there is time and space for each child to find their own way into play and socialising.

As the children warm to the environment and each other, play is more dynamic and physical; a walk is taken up the hill and then their 'base camp' is established for the day, where play is free and spacious.

An early lunch leads into a quieter phase of play and interaction. Rests can be taken in hammocks and stories told before the afternoon's energetic play begins.

A snack break is taken in the afternoon. As the day winds to an end, the staff and children make their way back to the park to play and be met by parents and carers.

Pre-school curriculum (Nature as Teacher)

The staff at the Secret Garden have worked closely with the 4 capacities of the Curriculum for Excellence to devise a unique outdoor curriculum: the Nature as Teacher Curriculum.

This curriculum aims to nurture and support the development of the inspired, creative child and the confident, happy child within the natural environment.

The curriculum will be piloted in 2008-09, with opportunities for parents, staff and children to offer feedback and ideas as to how it should be developed further.

By playing in the outdoors and identifying wildlife, experiencing different weather conditions and developing their senses, children gain emotional, personal and social development, communication and language skills, knowledge and understanding of the world, an expressive and aesthetic experience and physical development and movement.

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