Play Strategy

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:30 pm on 15th March 2006.

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Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP 4:30 pm, 15th March 2006

I welcome the debate and congratulate Ken Macintosh on securing it. I am particularly pleased that his motion

"welcomes calls from Play Scotland and Barnardo's for a play strategy" for Scotland. We need a play strategy if we are to move on and allow children the facilities that they require in today's society. Eleanor Scott gave a good description of the ways in which we hold our children back because we are afraid to allow them to stretch their wings, move away from the home and the local area and do things for themselves. They do not get the opportunities that we had as children—opportunities to explore and to do other things—so we have to make those opportunities. A play strategy is an important factor in that.

I want to say a little about children's health. I might go over the ground that we covered in the recent debate on obesity, but health is important. Figures published by the British Heart Foundation show that a third of Scottish 12-year-olds are overweight and that more than 1 in 10 are severely obese. The national child health surveillance programme predicts that, by 2020, 50 per cent of Scottish children will be obese. That is a stark figure. A play strategy will go some way towards solving that problem. I will not go into the other issues that we covered in the debate on obesity, but we should note them.

Children need access to a range of facilities for play and for sport. Play and sport are not the same, but one goes with the other. Research shows that, if children get a sense of achievement from what they do, they will be confident children with good self-esteem. If we give our children a sense of achievement in play and in sport, we do them a great service. At the moment, deprivation means that some children do not get the access that they should get. We ought to do something about that and ensure that children have access and choices. Children can play in a swimming pool as well as swimming. They can play on a football pitch. When they are playing about with a ball, they are still learning skills.

A play strategy for Scotland could lead to improvements, not only in our children's physical health but in their mental health and their social and personal development, because those things are enhanced by play. The Mental Health Foundation has reported that the increasingly limited amount of time that children spend playing outside or attending supervised play projects is one cause of the increase in mental ill health in young people. Our couch potato culture is not good for children's mental or physical well-being.

Play is about allowing children to express themselves freely, to interact with others and to develop their own ideas and interests. They need to be able to explore, to experiment and to solve problems. It is particularly important for children to have opportunities to solve problems because that helps prepare them for the world outside and the lives that they will live.

There is lots more that I wanted to say, but I am running out of time. Barriers to children's play are mainly related to safety. Road safety is one issue, but there are other concerns about safety. We know that children do not get abducted every day, but parents still worry about such things. I worry when I allow my granddaughter out to play. If we have safe areas where they can play, we will all feel better. I hope that we will get a play strategy.