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There is so much to play for when we encourage young children to enjoy the outdoors

By Juliet Robertson, Outdoor learning and play specialist, Creative STAR Learning

The image of children splashing in muddy puddles or running, carefree through the woods, giggling in the way only happy children can, might seem like a nostalgic rural idyll to city dwellers in this age of social media and easy-access tech. But it doesn’t have to be.

John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, has visited a new model of outdoor nursery that aims to make playing outside in nature part of the way children learn and develop from an early age, right in the heart of Glasgow. The project in Castlemilk is one of three providing outdoor childcare in the city set up by Glasgow City Council and the charity Inspiring Scotland.

They show that getting children outside to play is easy, no matter where you live. It is not just fun or nice to do. It is vital for children’s development.

There is a significant body of research and evidence from around the world that shows outdoor play in the natural environment allows children to thrive and grow in the best possible way.

There are obvious benefits such as increased physical activity which promotes better physical health and wellbeing, but outdoor play is so much more; it is the perfect learning environment.

When children are outside in nature they are exploring and discovering constantly; picking up leaves and twigs or gazing at a caterpillar or squirrel. This engenders a curiosity and willingness to learn that can last a lifetime.

It also helps children to connect with and understand their natural world in these times of accelerating climate change.

Outdoor play and learning can also promote wider mental development in children. Evidence points to outdoor play-based learning helping young children to focus and concentrate more, leading to better educational performance. Being outside in nature has an inherent freedom too; a freedom to run and splash and climb and roll around but also to imagine and create. When children are allowed the freedom to play outside they can turn a stick into a magic wand or a pile of leaves into a secret den.

Let’s not forget that playing outside is fun; children are happy when they play outside. Running and jumping, falling over and getting back up again helps children to build emotional and physical resilience and learn how to manage and assess risk as well as understand their capabilities.

Play is how children socialise, develop empathy and collaboration, simply by taking turns.

With so much green space available, even in the heart of our biggest city, Scotland is in a position to develop a world-leading outdoor learning environment, nurturing our children to become healthy, happy, curious and creative, well-rounded citizens and custodians of our natural world.

What’s more, outdoor play and learning need not be limited to nursery or school time, or even to weekends. There are so many opportunities for families to get out and play and explore their local places.

I am delighted to see Inspiring Scotland is also working with the Scottish Government in a campaign called #AwayandPlay to encourage more outdoor play for everyone.

Getting outside to play with our children (grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends, neighbours) is easy and, with undeniable benefits, is it not our obligation too?

I am passionate about motivating people to get children outside. But we all have a responsibility, whether as parents or policymakers, to encourage our children to be healthy, free, rounded and grounded through play. So what are you waiting for? Away and play outside.

This article originally appeared in The Herald 11/12/17

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