Play Strategy

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:51 pm on 15th March 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 4:51 pm, 15th March 2006

Like other members, I congratulate Ken Macintosh on securing such an important debate, in which there have been good speeches.

There is no doubt that play is a key topic and is central to our approach to nurturing and developing young and not-so-young children. All of us recall with joy a range of play activities in our own childhoods or in the childhoods of our children. Indeed, after the recent heavy snow fall, I was struck by a somewhat strong and nostalgic desire to go sledging; unfortunately, several generations of sledges had bitten the dust in the garage and I had to put the desire to one side for the moment. I do not altogether agree with what Christine Grahame said about the pleasures of falling down in playgrounds because I bear a scar on my knee to this day as a result of having had such a fall.

Play is an integral part of childhood and it plays a crucial role in children's emotional and physical development, as many members have said. It has an inherent value in bringing enjoyment to children, but it also allows them to use their imagination, to make choices and to build the skills that are necessary to form relationships and grow friendships. Those are important factors in promoting good mental health and positive outcomes later in life.

Eleanor Scott rightly mentioned the need for space to grow and the opportunity for a sense of adventure, which is linked to play. We know that there are some children who do not get the chance to play—the "battery children" to whom Ken Macintosh referred—whose parents may not have experienced proper play activities and whose development may be held back by the lack of suitable play opportunities and experiences.

I want to say something about the Scottish Executive's actions to support play. In the earliest years, through funding a development worker to promote the play@home scheme—which quite a number of local authorities have taken up—we give the practical assistance that is needed to help parents to ensure that play forms a part of children's development from the day on which they are born until they are five years old. The Executive has also published guidance that stresses the central role that play opportunities should have in young children's experience of early education and child care.

The strength of that approach is widely recognised. The curriculum review will introduce a less formal approach to the initial primary stage—Ken Macintosh touched on that. That was a partnership agreement commitment based on a recognition of the importance of play and more informal education. Many opportunities exist during the curriculum review process to consider that issue.

The national care standards for early education and child care up to the age of 16 require that activities that are provided by staff allow children and young people to enjoy both organised and free play, both of which are important, as members have said. Those standards are inspected annually by the care commission.

I accept the caveat that has been given about physical education, but play is linked to physical activity. A reminder of that is provided to us when we watch children playing together in the playground of the Royal Mile primary school beside the Parliament.

With the development of active schools co-ordinators, the active schools programme has done a good deal to deliver an extensive programme of recreational activities, including active play, in Scotland's schools. The expansion of out-of-school care provision in recent years has also allowed increased opportunities for safe and rewarding play and activities for school-age children.

As the motion points out, play can also benefit mental health. Indeed, play therapists use a variety of play and creative arts techniques to improve chronic, mild and moderate psychological and emotional conditions that cause behavioural problems. Again, the holistic approach is important. On visits to schools and units that specialise in physically handicapped and emotionally disturbed children, I have noticed how linking physical sensations of touch, sound and vision to positive play experiences is central to the approaches that are taken.

Ken Macintosh and other members have rightly highlighted a number of barriers to children accessing play opportunities and space to play in. Although local provision is a matter for the elected local authority in an area—in that respect, Mr Macintosh mentioned the project in Toryglen—in the spring the Executive will issue for consultation draft Scottish planning policy 11, which will include national minimum standards within certain types of new development.