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Could Active Play be the route to better health? - Inspiring Scotland


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Could Active Play be the route to better health?

Being physically active is one of the most important things people can do to improve their physical and mental health. It can help prevent a range of non-communicable diseases, those associated with unhealthy behaviour such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and improves mental health and cognitive functioning, among other benefits. 

However, the new Step Up! Tackling the Burden of Insufficient Physical Activity in Europe report from OECD and The World Health Organisation (WHO) tells us that, too many Europeans are physically inactive. One in three European adults do not meet the WHO physical activity guidelines, and almost half never exercise or play sport. The report describes patterns and trends of insufficient physical activity in Europe. It reviews the detrimental impact that current physical inactivity levels have on population health and health expenditure. The report also provides a range of options to address insufficient physical activity, drawing on case studies from across Europe. 

Here in Scotland, the 2021 Active healthy kids Scotland Report Card tells us that children living in areas of deprivation aren’t physically active enough with only 13% meeting physical activity guidelines. 

Through our own research through the Thrive Outdoors fund, we know physical literacy skills in children are not well developed which is having lifelong consequences for children’s physical and mental health. But there’s another problem…many adults responsible for children don’t understand the importance of physical activity for children or how active play can help. They lack knowledge about the importance of physical literacy and need training and support to facilitate fun and inclusive active play confidently.   

So, how do we fix this?  

The Active Play programme has been conceived to address problems related to low levels of physical activity during childhood that lead to a range of preventable mental, physical and social problems. It has been developed through a unique third sector partnership that has brought together a range of expertise in outdoor play, physical activity, policy, funding, training, research, and evaluation.  Ongoing evaluation and research, undertaken by universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow, alongside our own learning have shown consistent outcomes in these critical areas of health, wellbeing, and development. 

Since 2016, 6009 children have taken part in active play 2381 sessions across 162 Glasgow City Council primary schools, early years establishments and community setting. 1049 Primary 5 and 6 children have gone on to become play champions in their school with 50% achieving their Hi5Awards, a nationally recognised SCQF certificate. In 2022 Active Play has extended into the Highlands and has supported 370 children across 3 primary schools, early years settings and communities.  

Most importantly, it has contributed to improving attainment, physical health, emotional well-being, and resilience. Teaching staff  recognise the benefits with many continuing to deliver Active Play after the programme has ended.  Physical activity and literacy levels are enhanced in schools with 80% participating in more active play at breaks and lunchtime, or at home and 74% children taking up/planning to take up new sports clubs or activities after school.  

Actify’s Active Play training and support helps to embed a legacy of Active Play within organisations. This training helps to develop the skills and confidence of adults working with children supporting 258 play practitioners, teachers, support for learning workers (SFLW), active schools coordinators and modern apprentices in 2022.  Actify’s online platform houses many resources including videos, modules, information, and links to research as well as hints, tips, and explanations on how to deliver active play sessions.


“Active Play is one of the most natural ways to target low levels of physical activity.  Supporting and enabling adults to facilitate Active Play in nurseries, schools, community groups and at home is vital to change behaviours and encourage a habit of physical activity”   Actify

“The Active Play Programme has helped me notice what the wee man is able to do, he was having such a laugh, it made me want to join in more often with him”  Parent

“My understanding and confidence have grown delivering Active Play sessions and I will continue to deliver these sessions now that I am more confident. Children are more engaged, willing and focused due to the physical activities. The children’s confidence has grown, and inclusion is more visual. Active Play is a fantastic resource for children and staff.”   Early Years Practitioner  


How to get involved 

Active Play is good for children’s health and happiness.  It is essential and a right that our children have access to good quality active play opportunities.  We know that children are playing outside less with their friends, playing alone more and are less active than they were before the pandemic.     

We have the power to change this.   

The Children’s Parliament ‘Schools on the Move Report’ explores the physical and social barriers to children’s engagement in physical activity and sets our 10 calls to action from children. One such call recognises that adults play an important role in ensuring children get enough physical activity. Children want adults at home, at school and in our communities to be encouraging and supportive towards them and to set an example for them by being active themselves and where possible being physically active with their children. Adults can equally benefit. As a parent myself seeing my child healthy and happy, and when appropriate joining in on her active play also has a positive effect for my own health and happiness. 

If we believe in a child’s right to play and want to create a better future for all our children, we must continue to ensure more and better active play across all places and spaces becomes a fundamental part of growing up in Scotland. 

To find out more click here.


Melodie Crumlin

Thrive Outdoors Fund Manager  

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