As our Summer of Parks week focussing on play concludes, we welcome a guest blog from Marguerite Hunter Blair, Chief Executive of Play Scotland and Fields in Trust Scotland Committee member, who discusses the importance of outdoor experiences for children's development.
Having access to outdoor environments is a very rich and playful experience for all of us. Across the UK a large part of our cultural identity is tied up in getting out into the countryside - exploring green spaces and woodland, climbing hills and mountains, paddling in rivers and building sandcastles at the seaside. But we know from research that many children and young people are missing out on these vital opportunities.
The way children and young people spend their time has changed significantly over the last thirty years, with a reduction in the time spent playing outdoors, a massive contraction in their independent mobility and a huge increase in screen-based entertainment. Research has also shown parents' satisfaction with play opportunities has fallen over the last thirty years making it even more important for us as parents, families and professionals to provide better access to awesome environments, open spaces, the elements and everyday adventures.
Urban environments can provide lots of spaces for children to enjoy with green areas and play parks, and there is also a real benefit to experiencing a more rugged outdoor landscape where there is less control and children have to be more aware of risk.
"Children need progressive opportunities to participate in playful adventures outdoors. Experiencing the elements and enjoying activities that provide risk and challenge are key in the development of essential life skills such as: resilience, communication, problem solving, working with others, assessing and managing risk, and independence."
Marguerite Hunter Blair, Chief Executive, Play Scotland
Uncontrolled environments in the outdoors can be awe-inspiring, breath-taking and inspirational and can have an impact long beyond the experience itself. For example being on a beach can be a very physical experience playing in the sand or with shells or being in the water and it can also be an emotional environment where you can experience the power of the wind and waves or the tranquillity of a sunset. Climbing a tree or reaching the top of a mountain can help build confidence and establish positive memories for life. To feel that many of our children are missing out on these experiences is worrying.
Children need progressive opportunities to participate in playful adventures outdoors. Experiencing the elements and enjoying activities that provide risk and challenge are key in the development of essential life skills such as: resilience, communication, problem solving, working with others, assessing and managing risk, and independence.
If you were asked about your favourite place to play when you were about eight years old, your play memory might start with being outdoors, in parks or playgrounds, in or near running water, crossing fields and climbing trees, possibly quite far from home. Almost certainly your memory would not feature being constantly supervised by an adult.
Getting out to play is fundamental to children's healthy development and fosters their well-being, knowledge and understanding, creativity and capacity to learn. Playing outside also contributes to flagship public policies such as improving attainment, better health, improved community planning and reducing inequality.
Outdoor play opportunities can easily address the big challenge of our time - increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour. We need to ensure that all children and young people have permission, time, and space to access life-enhancing play adventures for this to be possible.
Favourite childhood park: The Red Park we called it, with red gravel paths and there was a steep climb up to it, a beautiful setting between Rosebank and Crossford.
Favourite local park: Straiton Park, Ayrshire, right on our doorstep and the fish'n'chip van parks there on a Friday evening.
Favourite overseas park: Stanley Park, Vancouver, best of parks and I loved the water features and people driers!
Favourite park memory: Rolling down hills, getting covered in grass.
Favourite thing to do at the park: Swing higher than anyone else, but I did sail through the air once or twice and still have a few scars!
Marguerite Hunter Blair is Chief Executive of Play Scotland, the national play organisation which promotes children's right to play and provides resources and training on the benefits of play. She holds a BA (Hons) MSc and post grad certificate in Law, and post grad diploma in Managing and Developing Play Provision and is a leading figure promoting the child's right to play in Scotland.
Marguerite has been CEO of Play Scotland for 13 years and was previously CEO of PlayBoard Northern Ireland, after a career in community development as Community Services Manager, Belfast City Council. As well as being a member of the Fields in Trust Scotland committee, Marguerite is Chair of Scotland's Play Council Strategy Group, supporting the implementation of Scotland's National Play Strategy, a member of the Education Leaders' Forum, Scotland's representative on UK Play Safety Forum and UK Children's Play Policy Forum, member of SW/65 - BSI committee for children's playgrounds standards (EN 1176 series) and Trustee of IPA Scotland. Marguerite is author of many papers, articles, presentations and blogs promoting the benefits of play and co-author of Raising the Bar - Findings of the Scottish Play Commission and Local Authority Play Provision in Scotland.