CHILDREN are to be encouraged outdoors to play on the streets of Scotland’s largest city in an attempt to promote well-being and tackle rising obesity levels.
The new strategy being targeted at schools and parents in Glasgow warns that fears over the dangers associated with playing outside has created an environment that is “too safe” and which limits children’s development by preventing them from taking risks.
Playing for Real, which was launched by Glasgow Life, an arms-length organisation of the city council, recommends that active play becomes part of a every child’s day, either at school or afterwards.
It notes the need to open up new areas of the city for play, with parental concerns about safety having led to a situation where children “roam” far less than those of previous generations. The strategy sets out Glasgow’s priorities for play over the next three years and is released as new playgrounds are opened in the city this week.
Andrea McMillan, learning manager for Glasgow Life, said studies had shown the distance that children wander away from home for play had reduced steadily over the years. She said: “We spoke to 600 children and the message came through strongly that they want to be playing outside and be with their pals. I would like to see that happen.
“We’ve looked at the barriers that children are facing. I think Glasgow is ahead of the game, but the problem of inactivity is a nationwide problem. We’ve particular barriers in Glasgow, but across Scotland and the rest of the UK, research shows how far children can wander away from home has reduced.”
She added: “Good play experiences enrich children’s lives in a number of ways and have wider benefits for health and well-being for the child now and in the future.
“The opportunity for play also has benefits for the family and the community.” The report notes risk-taking, one of the “critical elements” of play, is decreasing amid fears over traffic, bullying and crime.
It says activities such as getting to the top of a climbing frame or being allowed out with friends allows children to challenge themselves, providing a “fundamental building block” of their development. Lack of risk-taking denies children the chance to learn from their mistakes and judge risks effectively, it says.
Marguerite Hunter Blair, chief executive of Play Scotland, said: “Play supports many aspects of children’s development – their learning, socialisation, physical development, self-esteem, well-being and management of risk.
“Good play experiences enrich and enhance children’s lives in many ways with benefits for their health and well-being and that of the wider community, now and in the future.
“Glasgow’s Playing for Real is an excellent and timely strategy. Delivering the child’s right to play through this strategy will make a tremendous contribution to a healthier, safer, smarter and more attractive Glasgow.”
There are more than 16,000 children in Glasgow aged between five and 15 who are overweight or obese, around 20 per cent of the total. It is also estimated that around 8,000 children aged five to 15 in Glasgow have a mental health disorder and that 5,250 of these have a conduct disorder.
The report says there is a danger of creating a play environment that is “too safe,” and therefore inhibiting children’s development. Experts recommend that children are exposed to some risk to enable them to develop resilience and good risk-management skills.
According to the report, the best play happens when it is safe enough to take risks and experience challenge. A lack of playtime is thought to be one explanation for some youth crime.
Experts believe that children learn through play how to cope with social life and the rules of what is and what is not acceptable in society. Those children who are not given the opportunity to explore and run off high spirits when they are young are more likely to want to do this later on, according to the report.
Figures included in the Scottish Health Survey, which was published last month, showed many schoolchildren still not reaching recommended levels of physical activity. It showed that teenage girls in particular lag behind their male counterparts, with the gap being especially pronounced between the ages of 13 and 15. According to the statistics, just 48 per cent of girls in that age group were doing at least an hour of physical activity a day, compared with 75 per cent of boys. However, across all the age groups, the gap has narrowed, with 70 per cent of girls meeting recommended targets, compared to 75 per cent of boys.
According to Glasgow’s Playing for Real report, around 30 per cent of young people surveyed said that they felt unsafe in the city’s parks.
Parents are said to be concerned about the dangers of traffic and bullying by older children, while the children report being shouted at or moved on by members of the public. There are also concerns about gang activity, drunkenness, vandalism and litter.
Earlier this year, former Labour health minister Professor Susan Deacon published her independent report into early-years development, which called for early intervention to support families and the value of play.
The report called for a new generation of children and family centres to be established across the country and for Scotland to be “more child-friendly”.
Prof Deacon said there needed to be a “bias for action” when dealing with issues that could prevent a child from reaching their potential. The report said that in some cases “intensive support” was needed to “break the cycle of poor parenting that is blighting the lives of many of our children”.
Councillor George Redmond, the chairman of Glasgow Life, said: “I fully support the contribution that play makes. Providing young people with places to go, opportunities to be active and ways to safely challenge themselves is extremely important.”