Clare spoke in Ruth Maguire MSP’s debate on Play Scotland’s Play Charter about the many emotional, cognitive, and physical benefits of play for children. A full transcription follow the video clip below.
I, too, thank Ruth Maguire for bringing the debate to Parliament. As parents, we sometimes find it too easy to fear for our children’s safety, and it can become a habit to keep children indoors and off the streets. Time feels increasingly scarce and, if a parent works shifts or is a single parent, it can be a challenge for them to send their children outside rather than keep them indoors, especially when they know that a child who is using their computer or watching TV indoors is safe and secure.
We should not lose sight of the benefits of play from an early age. For infants, programmes such as the baby brain workout, which Barnardo’s promoted during last year’s infant mental health awareness week, identify play as a key pillar of infant learning and emotional development. As Brian Whittle said, early interaction is important for the neurobiological development of infants’ brains.
Children who play outside with others grow into curious, well-adjusted adults who not only are healthier but develop key social skills. Play stimulates and enhances learning, and it fosters creativity, which means that the time that we value indoors—such as time that is spent reading books—should be balanced with time outdoors to consolidate learning.
Outdoor play is a great leveller. It allows those who come from more challenging backgrounds to get some of the same stimulation and fun as those who come from wealthier families get. We should create spaces for play that reflect the understanding that children have different abilities and interests. We should also bring children of different interests and abilities together by using universal design, rather than separate them into overspecialised spaces.
Breaking the monoculture of public spaces is a good thing. Not all children are interested in a football pitch or able to take advantage of the facilities that are focused on able-bodied children. However, the biggest obstacle to play, especially in more deprived communities, is a lack of play spaces, as we have heard from some speakers.
In my constituency of Rutherglen, the redevelopment of Cuningar loop has been a fantastic step towards giving everyone the opportunity to play and to reconnect with the outdoors in their own way. The loop is set in 15 hectares of what was derelict land—the size of 15 football pitches—and it has been transformed into a community green space for local people and visitors to get involved, get active and be inspired by the outdoors. In one cohesive space, it has walking and cycling facilities, a workout area and Scotland’s first outdoor bouldering park, as well as picnic and outdoor classroom facilities. It was part funded by the Scottish Government as part of the 2014 Commonwealth games legacy and it provides just the sort of opportunities that Scotland’s play charter is looking to achieve.
The Scottish Government has invested £7 million through the go play and go2play programmes to support play for children in disadvantaged communities across Scotland. Women’s Aid in South Lanarkshire has received funding from the go2play capacity building fund to introduce free play clubs. The clubs allow primary school-aged children who have experienced domestic abuse the opportunity to play with peers in a safe environment. The organisation also promotes the benefits of play for children from challenging backgrounds.
Through an active commitment to the value of play, we can target improving mental health, educational attainment and social mobility. A happy, stimulated and socially integrated child has a far greater chance of leading a fulfilling and happy life. Along with the Government, I believe in the value of play in improving the lives and the life chances of children in Scotland. That is why I have pledged my support to the charter and have signed up to become a play champion. I recommend that everyone in the chamber should do so too, to support our young people.