Scotland's Play Strategy: Playing with quality and equality: a review of inclusive play in Scotland

A review of inclusive play in Scotland.

3. Working Definitions - a revised set of propositions

The Review of Literature indicated that Inclusive Play - although a term commonly used - is a difficult concept to define and has been interpreted differently by different people in different contexts. In addition, much of the research has a focus upon what the concept might mean within a service setting and to service providers, while views from outwith service settings and the views of children and young people on the matter are largely missing.

Despite, the basis provided by descriptions of key ideas in the Play Strategy Action Plan, and bearing in mind the findings of the Literature Review, it was identified early on that Working Definitions of 'Inclusive Play' should be developed. Without these, it was considered difficult to gather views based on a shared understanding.

The first set of Working Definitions was presented for scrutiny within the adults' online survey, re-examined in the light of the consultations and probed further in the events. There was an extremely high level of agreement with the definitions as descriptions or narratives of inclusive opportunities in play (88 % - 94% of respondents 'broadly' agreed with each, fewer than 4% in each disagreed) however the idea of 'inclusive play' as a discrete concept remained problematic.

To provide a small flavour of discussions:

  • When disabled children and young people were asked what they liked to play and who they liked to play with - as one might expect - they wanted the same as other children wanted. When questions were asked about barriers to play, the responses were the same (but amplified) as those that we have come to anticipate asking about play generally. When asking about environments for play the problems and dissatisfaction echoed those problems which are voiced repeatedly about environments for children and communities generally.
  • Attempting to describe inclusive play as something that was 'for' particular groups of children, quickly caused the concept to became unstuck. It put some children - as individuals or groups - into the category of 'other'.
  • It was strongly suggesting that to identify inclusive play as something different from, or in addition to, good quality play opportunities is unhelpful.

As a result, the Review proposes that the more concrete concepts of quality and equality should be brought to the fore.

Further, it was proposed that provision for play, play environments and support to play opportunities in whatever form (infrastructure, training, advice, campaigns, service provision, policies) should locate non-discrimination, equality of opportunity and participation as standing principles in every action, programme or measure.

As a result, the working definitions on inclusive play were revised to re-align with this view and are presented as narrative descriptions in each of the Play Strategy domains

Equality and quality in play

Play opportunities in the home and family environment

Within families, children's play needs and preferences vary and also change over time. Parents and carers own experience of play varies enormously and their attitude to play is influenced by many factors.

In this context the right to play means that each child is entitled to be able to play in their own way and, if required, with the type and level of support which enables this to happen. Support may be from within or outwith the family. Playing as fully as possible supports children's wellbeing and development. The immediate physical environment (in homes, gardens and common areas) need to be child-friendly and play-friendly in order that children can play fully and freely.

Children and families are entitled to be able to make choices about where they play together without facing discriminatory or disabling barriers, whether these are attitudinal, social, physical or organisational.

"Our homes and family environments should be places where all children and young people enjoy plentiful play opportunities, indoors and out, appropriate to their age, stage, ability and preferences."
Play Strategy Action Plan (2013) Scottish Government.

Play in school, nursery and early learning and childcare

Play in school, nursery and early learning and childcare is about all children and young people experiencing high quality play opportunities on a daily basis. This encompasses UNCRC principles, play environments and standards of adult practice.

Each setting has a responsibility to assess and take action to remove discriminatory or disabling barriers which hinder access to play and full participation, with particular attention paid to disabled or disadvantaged children. Each setting's programmes and practices should be designed and resourced with an understanding that among the children in the community of the setting, play needs, preferences and need for support both vary between individuals and change over time.

"All children and young people should 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. "
Play Strategy Action Plan (2013) Scottish Government.

Play in the Community

All children and young people should be able to play safely in their community without meeting barriers such as bullying, sectarianism or discrimination on grounds of impairment, culture or background. Where these problems exist proactive measures should be taken to tackle them. Careful consideration should be given to planning and designing public spaces and play provision (including principles of Access for All and Universal Design) so that all children and young people can safely and freely use them for play.

"All children should have sufficient time and space (physical and social) for playing within their community and have contact with nature in their everyday lives."
Play Strategy Action Plan (2013) Scottish Government.

Play in relation to Positive Support for Play

This Play Strategy domain is broad and encompasses providing 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.

The UN General Comment on article 31 provides the guidance on implementation of play rights to government and all those working for or with children, and those whose work impacts on children's play

All programmes and actions should be driven by the underpinning principles of equality, non-discrimination and participation and the need to respect, protect and fulfil children's right to play.

Examples of barriers to inclusive opportunities include:

  • the physical environment being inaccessible or unwelcoming due to poor design, uneven surfaces, hazards created by poor traffic management etc.;
  • social factors such as racism, gender stereotyping, poverty, discriminatory attitudes towards disabled people;
  • organisational and institutional barriers come in the form of inflexible rules, procedures and practices which exclude particular children and young people even if unintentionally, such as upper age limits which exclude children who might still benefit;
  • culturally ingrained attitudes such as low expectations for, or aspirations of, particular groups or stereotyping of girls and boys.


Email: Deborah Gallagher

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