Play Strategy

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:42 pm on 15th March 2006.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:42 pm, 15th March 2006

I am not quite sure why it takes moral courage to raise the issue of play, but I will take Lord James's word for it.

I find myself agreeing with Donald Gorrie—today must be my agree-with-Donald-Gorrie day—as I, too, do not like the word "strategy". The word is cumbersome and strategies tend not to go anywhere. I ask that we find another word.

I also agree with Ken Macintosh—I congratulate him on securing the debate—that there is a clear distinction between PE and play. I loathed PE and would not go near it, but I loved play and could not be taken away from it. Play is spontaneous exercise of both mind and body. It involves imagination. Regrettably, children nowadays do not have the fun that we had at that age. When there were no parked cars, the street was our playground.

I do not believe that parks provide a cure-all. Children tend not to like parks, not just because they can be the province of thugs, but because they offer more structured play. Children want to play, there and then, outside the door. Perhaps we should start by getting the parked cars off the road.

I recognise that we must protect our children, but I agree with Rosemary Byrne that our society must have a more balanced approach to stranger danger. The main danger to children comes from the kent family friend, the stepfather or other member of the family rather than from the stranger. That needs to be addressed.

Another issue that needs to be examined is litigation. I find it extraordinary that children in some primary schools are not allowed to play on the playground tarmac for fear that they will fall and hurt themselves and the school will be sued. What crazy world are we in? When I was a child, it was a badge of honour to have a skint knee, a grazed arm or a bloody nose. Once indoors, one got a cuddle and a cup of tea—or milk or lemonade or something—but such injuries were part of life. It seems that we do not let our children have minor injuries any more.

However, perhaps my biggest bugbear is the commercialisation of play. Why is so much money pitched at making people think that their child can be happy only if it has the most expensive toy or play frame in the garden? The best play is usually free and shared with other people spontaneously on the street.

I am interested in the list that Play Scotland kindly provided to us. One consequence of the increase in childhood obesity is that type II diabetes is becoming an epidemic among children.

Play can teach children to socialise and negotiate. As I said earlier to Adam Ingram, the children on my street always used to have a fight with the children in a nearby avenue about who would have a bonfire on 5 November. It was nearly war, but we knew that the issue would have to be resolved at the end of the day, a bit like the United Nations. After a bit of posturing, we used to put the two bonfires together and have a big combined one. Those were important lessons for children to learn. Lessons about bullying can also be learned when children play.

I draw attention to the confidence that children get from play, particularly if it is dangerous play. I point out to Ken Macintosh that there must sometimes be an element of danger for children in play. I remember walking along beams on rooftops—if my mother had known about it she would have gone white. That was daredevil stuff, but it was about challenging ourselves physically and mentally. Of course there are limits, but an element of danger is needed in unstructured play. Another element is imagination. Children do not need expensive toys—they can invent it all for themselves. If they have enough imagination, they might end up being politicians—goodness help the world.