Provision of high-quality play facilities in local communities not only has a vital role to play in tackling the nation’s catastrophic physical inactivity epidemic, but also addresses wider social problems like social exclusion, anti-social behaviour and community cohesion, says the Association of Play Industries (API).
API chair Michael Hoenigmann says: “Every child has a fundamental right to play but there are many local communities that have nowhere safe for their children to play. At the same time that childhood obesity and physical inactivity are rising and young people’s relationship with the outdoor world is dwindling, austerity measures are putting children’s right to play and their health and wellbeing at risk.”
The association is calling on politicians for investment in high-quality public play facilities and parks, particularly in deprived communities; for children’s needs to come first when planning new play facilities; for long-term funding for all schools to provide more and better opportunities for active outdoor learning and play and to improve provision of PE and sport; and for measurement of children’s physical literacy within the Ofsted inspection regime.
The API makes four key requests:
1 Children are more physically active if they have access to well-designed, high-quality outdoor play facilities. Well-designed play spaces act as a ‘signpost’ for children to access the outdoor world. Public parks should be hubs for physical activity for people of all ages, including young children, teenagers and seniors. Investment in, and subsequent maintenance of, public play facilities should be a government priority, particularly in deprived communities.
2 Local authority procurement practices are protracted, consume time and money, stifle the development of high-quality play facilities and fail children. Play is a child development issue. Decisions about local play provision should be made by specialists within local authorities who understand the benefits of play and the needs of local communities, not by procurement departments.
3 Increased physical activity levels are directly linked to greater concentration and academic attainment. Schools play a key role in encouraging children to be more active throughout the school day. The Sport England Primary Spaces programme should be extended to every school, with broader scope to incorporate a wide variety of physical literacy activities, not just ball games.
4 Active outdoor learning and play at school are as important as PE and sport in encouraging children of all capabilities to be more physically active, as well as improving concentration, classroom behaviour and academic performance. A measurable outcome for physical literacy in schools with agreed minimum levels of physical activity, outdoor learning and play should be mandated in all schools as part of the national curriculum with outcomes assessed within the Ofsted framework.
Evidence of the benefits of high-quality play provision can be found in Tim Gill’s report, ‘The Play Return: a review of the wider benefits of play initiatives’ and the Association of Play Industries’ policy document ‘Community benefits of children’s play areas’.