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Rona: Play is not a luxury for children — it is essential for health and well-being

I thank my colleague Ruth Maguire for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

Children have a right to play, as enshrined in article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but the issue is about much more than that: we all know that play is what teaches our children social skills, how to compromise and how to be tolerant and resilient. Play is the universal language of childhood. Even young animals play: we buy toys for our dogs, cats, rabbits and hamsters. The benefits of play in the developing years simply cannot be overstated.

However, not all children are lucky enough to be given encouragement to play or to be bought toys that most children come to expect. As a former children’s panel member, I have seen children who were so neglected and starved of attention that they had to be taught how to play. It was then that I realised what an important part of a child’s development play is.

Since 1998, the benefits of Play Scotland’s inclusive strategic approach have been significant. It aims to ensure that no child is left out. The play charter challenges barriers and ensures that discrimination and stigma based on age, gender, disability, ethnicity, poverty or low income have no place in affecting children’s play experiences, so that all children feel included.

As was outlined by Brian Whittle, the benefit of play to the physical, emotional and mental health of children and young people is immense. Through play, they are able to develop social skills and responsibility, to appreciate the environment and to participate in sports, art and culture. That grows their identity and self-esteem and, in turn, makes them less likely to offend and to engage in antisocial behaviour in later life.

I welcome the positive development that we have heard about, which builds on the Scottish Government’s national play strategy and the getting it right for every child approach to supporting children, young people and their families.

The play charter’s commitment to training adults so that they can support high-quality play experiences in a variety of places where children play is also positive. Those places include nurseries and childcare venues, schools, children’s services facilities, out-of-school clubs and holiday schemes. The approach works to ensure high-quality play experiences across key areas that contribute to children’s development and growth, and which affect their daily life experiences.

The play charter supports children’s participation in the planning, development and evaluation of play services, recognising them as play experts and seeking out their views. Of course, that ensures that children and young people are engaged and that the play charter is reflective of their interests and needs. Play Scotland’s campaigning through the play charter to ensure that play is more strongly embedded within policies, strategies and key qualifications is welcome with regard to making sure that we get it right for every child.

We must all encourage children to play, and we must create the correct environments—indoors and outdoors—where they can do that. Play is not a luxury for our children—in my view, it is essential to the health and wellbeing of future generations.

I wish Play Scotland continued success in its campaign and would be happy to be a play champion. I wish it well in its attempts to raise awareness of the benefits of play and of providing inclusive play experiences for children across Scotland.

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