Play strategy for Scotland: our action plan

The action plan supports the earlier play strategy by setting out the steps needed to realise our vision for play.


Section 1 : Introduction

In June 2013 we published the Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision,, which seeks to improve the play experiences of all children and young people, including those with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds. It aims to ensure all children and young people can access play opportunities in a range of 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, stage, ability and preference.

The fun and pleasure of playing is a vital part of a happy childhood as well as being crucial to children's development as individuals and members of society.

High quality play opportunities and provision of a physical and social environment that supports play increase the likelihood of improved outcomes for children and lessen the impact of factors that lead to poorer outcomes.

The Vision aims to improve play experiences for all children and addresses our obligations in relation to children's right to play as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a Vision we can work towards together.

Parents and carers, as well as other adults concerned with children's day-to-day experiences, have a vital role in encouraging and facilitating play. Policy makers, planners and practitioners have a collective responsibility to ensure play is embedded at the heart of decision-making throughout our society and to provide the catalyst for culture change.

The Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision is our first national Strategy for play. Along with the Strategy, the Action Plan aims to set out some of the practical steps towards realising our Vision - we want to be able to deliver tangible improvements.

In the Plan, we have identified outcomes and actions which have been set in four domains. The domains are:

  • In the home
  • At nursery and school
  • In the community
  • Positive support for play

The actions are set in the short term (approximately 6-12 months), medium term (approximately 1-3 years) and long term (3 plus years). They are the first steps to achieving our long term vision. Implementation plans will support this Action Plan and will be kept under review as we work towards better play for all children.

No one organisation or sector can achieve all that we want for children's play. The Action Plan is relevant for all working for or with children or whose work impacts on children's ability to exercise their right to play. We hope that many more actions than those identified here will be undertaken in order to improve all our children and young people's play experiences.

Section 2 : Policy Context

Scotland's first national Play Strategy and Action Plan will contribute directly to all of our National Outcomes and specifically ensuring 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.

The Getting It Right For Every Child ( GIRFEC) approach aims to have an individual child-centred approach which targets the specific needs that a child has. This in turn allows a more specific tailored support network to ensure that the child gets the correct support when they need it.

Increasingly, across a range of policies, the Scottish Government recognises that we must build on the strengths and abilities that lie within all of our communities. We must work with people and not do things to them. This philosophy is central to the forthcoming Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, which will open up new ways for communities to determine their own futures.

The Strategy and Action Plan will complement our proposals in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill and further support our three main social policy frameworks: the Early Years Framework, Equally Well, and Achieving our Potential. These frameworks, along with the Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland, outline our commitment to collaborative working and investment at a national and local level to tackle the long term drivers of poverty and income inequality through early intervention and prevention.

'Improving outcomes and children's quality of life through play' is one of the 10 elements of transformational change set out in The Early Years Framework. It recognises that play is central to how children learn, both in terms of cognitive skills and softer skills around relating to other people. It also recognises that it is a right and a fundamental part of children's quality of life.

Curriculum for Excellence aims to achieve a transformation in education in Scotland by providing a coherent, more flexible and enriched curriculum from ages 3 to 18. Free play has the potential to contribute powerfully and positively to some of the most significant areas of life in schools, nurseries, early years and childcare. Curriculum for Excellence promotes playful learner-led approaches in the classroom and outdoors.

Good Places Better Health ( GPBH), the Scottish Government's Strategy on health and the environment, has particular significance for play. The GPBH approach recognises that environment has a significant impact on the health of Scotland's people and that action is required to create safe, health-nurturing environments for everyone.

Planning for play requires a comprehensive approach with collaboration across sectors and policy areas. Relevant sectors include those dealing directly with children, such as health and education, and also those concerned with housing, architecture, parks, transport, environment and planning etc, all of which have a significant impact on children's play opportunities. Planning Aid for Scotland, for example, has a particular significance here.

Section 3 : What Do We Mean By...?

This section provides background to explain the terminology we use throughout the Action Plan. There will always be a range of perspectives on, and experiences of play, but this section aims to establish a shared understanding from which to work towards the Vision.

What age range does the Strategy apply to?

Article 31 establishes the right to play for all children and young people up to the age of 18. The form play takes changes and adapts throughout the course of childhood, and is individual to the child or young person. As children grow older, their needs and wants evolve. They will also explore progressively more opportunities involving self-assessed risk-taking and challenge. [1]

What do we mean by parents, carers and families?

All those individuals and agencies involved in a parenting role including parents, carers, grandparents, kinship carers, corporate parents, childminders and others.

What do we mean by play?

In the Action Plan we are using the word 'play' in the way it is described in the Play Strategy Vision, that is:

  • Play encompasses children's behaviour which is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. It is performed for no external goal or reward, and is a fundamental and integral part of healthy development - not only for individual children but also for the society in which they live.

The key characteristics of play are fun, uncertainty, challenge, flexibility and non-productivity. [1] Play can happen indoors or outdoors, with or without the oversight of adults, in everyday spaces, in environments designed for play and in places chosen by children and young people.

What do we mean by 'high quality play opportunities'?

By its very nature 'high quality' is difficult to define, and will look different in different circumstances and locations. However, in terms of the provision of play opportunities and environments, in general we might expect 'high quality opportunities' to happen when:

  • the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are put into practice
  • the environment provides stimulus for play to flourish
  • if adults are involved, they work to established ethical and professional standards.

Of course, given the nature of play, children do have high quality play experiences outwith the view of adults and in circumstances and locations that were not intended for play.

What do we mean by 'all children'?

Our Vision for play is for all children and young people in Scotland. Children of all ages, stages and abilities should have the opportunity to realise their right to play without discrimination of any kind. However, many children face attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers to accessing play opportunities and provision. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Article 30 states that there is a State responsibility to ensure that children with disabilities have equal access with other children to participation in play, recreation, sporting and leisure activities. Pro-active measures are needed to remove the barriers and promote accessibility to, and availability of, inclusive opportunities to participate in all these activities.

What do we mean by 'early learning and childcare'?

We are using 'early learning and childcare' to mean a service for children under school age, which consists of education and care, and which gives importance to interactions and other experiences which support learning and development in a caring and nurturing setting. This is the definition used in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill.

What do we mean by 'school age childcare'?

School age childcare or Out of School Care ( OSC), is the provision of a safe, caring environment offering a range of active, stimulating and restful activities for school age children before and after school and during holidays. Out of school care and seasonal services take parental responsibility for the children in their care. Services must register with, and are regulated by, the Care Inspectorate and the workforce must be registered with and is regulated by, the Scottish Social Care Services ( SSSC).

What do we mean by the play workforce and the play sector?

The play workforce is made up of the people who facilitate play opportunities as part of their professional role. Playworkers see this role as supporting children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play. The play workforce includes adults who facilitate play in a range of settings such as playgroups, childminding settings, hospitals, residential settings, school playgrounds and communities.

The play sector is made up of the organisations which support children and young people's play on a number of levels, such those which provide advice, information, training and funding; umbrella, membership and regional infrastructure organisations; those involved in the creation and upkeep of play environments, etc.

Section 4 : Implementation Structure

Implementation Structure

Our overall goal for implementation is that a collective responsibility for, and focus on, realising children's right to play develops in Scotland, with a shared understanding of the roles of government, health agencies, third sector, funders, private sector, communities, individuals and media.

We need to take both a top down and bottom up approach to achieving change.

A Play Strategy Implementation Group led by the Scottish Government and made up of representatives of statutory bodies, local authorities, third sector organisations and funders will be established in order to support and monitor our progress.

This group will establish working groups to carry out some of the specific actions that have been identified and tasked to a group.

Partnership working is key to achieving the Vision for children's play in Scotland. This should be underpinned by environmentally, economically and socially sustainable approaches to providing for play.

Children and young people's views must be taken into account and their ideas and participation encouraged and supported. Implementation of the Plan will open opportunities for children and young people to participate and contribute in a range of ways.

In the same way that play runs as a thread through children's daily experiences, there are many points at which the actions in the four domains of this plan - home, nursery and school, community, positive support for play - overlap and support each other. This has to be taken into account in implementing the Plan.

Section 5 : Vision, Principles and Outcomes

This section highlights the principles which underpin the Action Plan


We want Scotland to be the best place to grow up. A nation which values play as a life-enhancing daily experience for all our children and young people, in their homes, nurseries, schools and communities.


In the home, at nursery and school, and in every community:

  • We should value all children and young people
  • We should enable all children and young people to realise their right to play
  • All children and young people should have space and time to play ( The 'Sufficiency' Principle)


In the home

Our homes and family environments are places where children and young people enjoy plentiful play opportunities, indoors and out, appropriate to their age, stage, ability and preferences.

At nursery and school

All children and young people enjoy high quality play opportunities, particularly outdoor free play in stimulating spaces with access to nature, on a daily basis in school, nursery and early learning and childcare.

In the community

All children and young people have sufficient time and space (physical and social) for playing within their community and have contact with nature in their everyday lives. Play is valued, encouraged and supported in communities, as are providers of community play opportunities such as out of school care, playgroups, therapeutic and specialist settings and community champions of play.

Positive support for play

Scotland provides a positive environment for play through: a professional workforce; strong and visionary leadership; a well-resourced third sector and infrastructure; and a supportive and informed media.


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