An Open Letter about Outdoor Play to the Minister for Children and Young People

outdoors

Dear Maree Todd,

We’re sure you’ll be as pleased as Upstart Scotland that there’s been no shortage of advice for parents on the importance of children’s play in a time of coronavirus, from this excellent ‘Learning in Lockdown’ blog to a Guardian piece by the Professor of Play at Cambridge University.

However, most of this advice has concentrated on indoor play.

On 18th April we published a short guest blog by a play specialist, pleading with the Scottish government to ensure daily access to outdoor play for children during the lockdown.  As you know, active outdoor play is particularly important during the early years. Indeed, one of the main reasons Upstart advocates a Nordic-style kindergarten stage (3 to 7 years) is the sharp decline in this type of play over recent decades. For the last four years, our newsletters and blogs have catalogued the growing literature on its significance for long-term physical and mental health.

We were therefore delighted when, on April 20th your department issued advice about outdoor play in childcare settings (see below), which was clearly influenced by the recently-published guidance for Early Level, Realising the Ambition.

gov advice re outdoor play in settings

However, very few children currently attend childcare settings (and the take-up among those entitled to do so is very low). The people who really need this advice are parents who have been caring for children under seven years of age since March 20th and will be doing so until at least the summer holidays.

There has, as yet, been no advice about outdoor play for parents. Indeed anyone consulting the government advice on home learning (which was published the same day as your advice for early years settings) would have to dig very deep indeed to find reference to the Early Level and play-based pedagogy – and we could find no reference at all to Realising the Ambition.

During this crisis, the first priority in caring for all ages of children must be the promotion of health and well-being.  And, during the early years, there is no research-based reason to focus on academic targets – the two most important ingredients of care for the under-sevens are secure attachment and play. Unfortunately, the information parents need on this subject is lost somewhere between advice on health, pre-school childcare and the first years of schooling.

Since April 18th, there have been several detailed documents about the importance of outdoor play during the coronavirus crisis, including this paper from the American Academy of Paediatrics and an excellent briefing briefing paper from two UK academics on how and why children should be provided with safe access to the streets around their homes.

Upstart therefore pleads with you to work with the Health and Education directorates  to:

  • ensure parents are fully informed about the particular developmental needs of three- to seven-year-olds, rather than simply including them in ‘educational’ advice for all age-groups
  • look into ways of facilitating safe supervised outdoor play for all under-sevens (including ‘social isolation’) and issue specific guidelines for parents on their role in providing it.

Yours sincerely,

Sue Palmer

Chair, Upstart Scotland

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