Play strategy for Scotland: our vision

Scotland's first national play strategy.


As a society we need to encourage children and young people to spend time outside and to start exploring the fantastic and often wild and open space which Scotland has in abundance, be it in the local town, city or countryside. Children playing outdoors is something we want to see happening much more in all outdoor places including green space, parks and streets that are valued by the community.

We know that a variety of different community settings are also important for many children and young people, such as nurseries, out of school services, playgroups and playschemes after school and in the holidays; and in youth clubs and community centres across the country.

Outdoor play doesn't necessarily mean visiting the local play park, sometimes it means playing kerby on the street or investigating local wildlife. The beauty of outdoor play is more than appreciating your natural surroundings and breathing in fresh air, it's on your doorstep, it's free and all children and young people can get involved - regardless of their background, gender, age, stage or ability, together with the whole family.

We know that open space allows children and young people to be physically active and challenge themselves so they sleep and eat well and form healthy habits that will stay with them for life. In particular, daily contact with nature and playing in natural spaces has additional benefits and promotes greater use of these community green spaces as adults.

The type of environments available for play have a major impact on the nature of that play so careful consideration should be given to the planning and design of public spaces and particularly for communities within the built environment. Children and young people should have access to play spaces, whether they are park areas or informal spaces where they choose to play. Scottish Planning Policy sets out that planning authorities should protect valued open space, and seek to address needs identified in open space strategies. There should be clean, safe and welcoming spaces for children and young people to play and gather where they are not considered a nuisance by others in their communities, as set out in Designing Places and Designing Streets . Stimulating environments reduce the incidence of aggressive and destructive behaviour. The importance of interesting outdoor spaces designed in partnership with children and young people cannot be overstated.

Most children and young people want to be able to play outside in the local neighbourhood where they live. They enjoy spaces that offer them the opportunity to experiment, to challenge themselves physically, to feel free and to socialise. Green Infrastructure: Design and Placemaking encourages architects, planners and developers to take account of the landscape and notes that green infrastructure can create pleasant, stimulating places for fun, play and relaxation.

Older children and young people can choose to participate in youth services which provide somewhere safe to be with their friends, hang out and have fun.

Exposure to challenges, with support from parents and carers, play workers and youth workers, balancing their understanding of keeping children safe from harm while allowing them to learn and develop through sometimes risky activities will help build resilience into adult life. That is why we want to see parents, carers, professionals and volunteers adopt a risk-benefit approach to play. We value the long-term benefits of play and exposure to risk - both in terms of physical health and in developing resilience and mental wellbeing and aim to support parents and carers, communities and professionals in recognising the benefits of this approach. The changing nature of the outdoors makes it a more interesting, stimulating place to play, and allows children the sense of fun and freedom they crave whilst promoting their physical, emotional and psychological health.

In addition, children and young people who play outdoors more often have better social networks, are more confident and are more involved in their local communities than those who are outside less often. Opportunities for, and experience of outdoor play vary widely, but there are some distinct differences in the experiences of girls and boys, those who are disabled, those from different social backgrounds and those from varied types of housing environment. Religious and cultural beliefs may also influence play opportunities and experiences.

If local spaces are to offer children the range of experiences they need and thrive on, they must be well designed and maintained to ensure children have regular access to new and interesting experiences that stretch and absorb them, whatever their age, interests and ability. This includes attending to issues with regards to the whole play landscape and environment such as measures to curb or calm traffic, provision of well-lit footpaths and walk ways, shelter and gathering spaces, litter bins and appropriate equipment for older children and young people.

"Habits of healthy outdoor exercise as adults are linked to patterns of use established in childhood"
(Thompson and others, 2008)

The social and cultural space for play can be as important as the physical environment and schemes which encourage communities to work together to support both intergenerational and age and stage related play serve an important purpose in establishing child and play friendly neighbourhoods. The existence of good spaces and opportunities for play allows children and young people from different social groups to mix, can reduce socially unacceptable behaviour and vandalism and provides children and young people with places where they can feel both safe and independent.

Avoiding the outdoors because of fear of traffic, concerns of personal safety or even the weather can impact on opportunities to play. Fears for children's safety have at times resulted in restricted access to outdoor play. While the risks are real, the perception of them is often higher than the reality and should be balanced against the benefits of outdoor play. We know that learning to deal with challenges will help build children's resilience into adult life. Learning to enjoy the outdoors in our climate and manage risks and challenges will help children and young people grow and develop into healthy confident adults.

"To place oneself at risk does not only mean that one places oneself in jeopardy, but also that one is situated in a zone of potential and development"
(Lindqvist and Nordanger, 2007)

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