Marguerite Hunter Blair, chief executive of Play Scotland

Marguerite Hunter Blair Why do we need Play Champions when play is a natural, spontaneous and voluntary activity from which we all benefit throughout our lives? We need more people to champion children’s right to play because recent research for Play Scotland shows there are far too many barriers which children and families need help to overcome.

Children play in many different ways. They don’t always need equipment. Children play on their own and with others. Their play may be boisterous and energetic or quiet and contemplative, light-hearted or very serious.

But most children want to be able to play outside in the local area near where they live. They enjoy spaces that offer them the opportunity to experiment, to challenge themselves physically, to feel free and to socialise with others.

The changing nature of the outdoors makes it a more interesting, stimulating place to play, and allows children the sense of fun and freedom they crave whilst promoting their physical, emotional and mental health.

Children and young people have the need and the right to play in welcoming and stimulating environments.

Through play children have fun; develop and learn; assess and manage risk; use their imaginations and create new experiences that contribute to their health, wellbeing and a happy, sociable childhood. This is why we need to ensure that local physical and social environments are supportive of play, and local communities need to work together to overcome the barriers to this.

Our research found that a third of parents feel they don’t play with their children enough and that children are playing out less.

Compared with online play, parents saw greater benefit from playing outside rather than online. However parents from more deprived areas listed lack of safe local space, stranger danger and bullying as their main concerns which made them restrict their children’s outdoor play.

Play Scotland works to develop playful communities where children can meet friends and play; walk safely in the streets on their own; have green spaces for plants and animals and participate in family, community and social life.

Last year over 80% of children in Scotland said they wanted to play outdoors more than they already do. A poll conducted for the Wildlife Trusts in 2015 revealed that over a quarter of children aged 8-15 had never played outside by themselves, and nearly forty percent hadn’t done this in the past 6 months.

For many children outdoor play is their favourite type of play, allowing them to experiment, take physical risks and have a sense of freedom. It also offers them better opportunities to build relationships, it is fun and they can run around and be active, and play with friends and family.

Children need space to play with balls, ride bikes, build dens and enjoy the natural environment where they can hide in bushes and trees and play with their pets. Children need more opportunities to be able to play freely, with their family and friends. This precious play time is slipping like sand through our fingers.

Home-Start works to encourage play between children and their parents or carers as part of their wider aim to support families.

At Play Scotland, we have created The Play Charter, which builds on the Scottish Government’s Play Strategy for Scotland and the Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) approach to supporting children, young people and their families and values play every day.

The Charter is for parents, play providers, politicians and everyone with an interest or responsibility for play in Scotland to pledge their support for play. Pledging to support play makes you a Play Champion.

Please sign up and help turn the tide in favour of more outdoor play, every day.

Marguerite Hunter Blair is the 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. Married with five children, the family spend a lot of time playing outdoors in all weathers!

Photo credit for banner image: Alan McCredie / Home-Start UK