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What did you do before the streetlights came on? - Inspiring Scotland


The latest stories from Inspiring Scotland and our partner charities.

What did you do before the streetlights came on?

As the clocks go back and the night draws in, it got me thinking about my childhood, and the unwritten rule that when the streetlights came on, we all knew it was time to go home and play time was over.  

Now, as a parent myself, these universal ‘rules’ have changed. The surge in technology means screen time is up and outside time is down. Going outside to play after school isn’t as popular as logging online to talk to pals.  

Parents are also increasingly risk averse and uncertain about allowing children to play outdoors with a rise in awareness of the risks of traffic, stranger danger, and anti-social behaviours.  

However, the benefits of playing outdoors are invaluable. Research, from Scotland and elsewhere, shows playing increases children’s health and fitness and teaches them the basic physical literacy skills they need throughout their lives. Studies also link playing, and the interaction that comes with it, with the development of social skills and emotional resilience. Children learn to problem-solve and risk-assess through play, and being physically active develops cognitive ability and is linked to academic achievement. 

Parents must think back to their own childhoods and the benefits that they yielded from playing outdoors.  

What if, like the baby box, every child in Scotland received a head torch for their sixth or seventh birthday? How many more life enhancing adventures would our children have playing outdoors? 

The role of poverty in physical literacy in Scotland 

The Scottish Government released their child poverty update in April 2023, which found that 18% of children in Scotland are living in poverty. Additionally, 27% of children are living in households with low or very low food insecurity, children who experience poverty are more likely to suffer from poor mental health and physical health, have less opportunities for physical activity, and recreational screentime time over eight hours per day.  

This daunting reality is hard to face, however, there are ways to help reduce the effects that the past few years of unrest have had on our children and families.  

Hosted by the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education, a group of global researchers recognised that play has a central, important and strategic role in how children can move forward following Covid-19. 

To some, this may seem too simple to work. For others, like those living in our cities, this might seem inaccessible. Still, the science is in: Getting outside can greatly benefit children and their families physical, social, mental health and well-being.  

Outdoor play IS the way 

Play comes perfectly naturally to children – play is physical activity, and builds personal character, cognitive, social and moral development.  

Over the past decade, there has been more focus on outdoor play in early learning and childcare, schools, and community settings with the publishing of Scotland’s Coalition for Outdoor Play and Learning position statement.  

  • In cross-sectoral developments, the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 introduced a Play Sufficiency Assessment duty which requires planning authorities to assess the sufficiency of play opportunities in their area.  
  • Scotland hosted the International Play Association (IPA) conference in 2023, hosting more than 550 delegates from 40 countries showcasing the outdoor play provision and promote the child’s right to play as a fundamental human right. 
  • In 2019, Play Scotland, in partnership with A Place in Childhood, were commissioned to co-create the Place Standard Tools for Children and Young People.  
  • Last month, the Scottish Government launched the Caring for Outdoor Spaces update, as part of the Out to Play series. We contributed our expertise in the sector to inform the resource which aims to support Early Learning and Childcare practitioners to provide great outdoor play experiences for our children.  

These examples of policy developments supported by collaborations between the Scottish Government, the play sector and other public bodies demonstrate significant progress. Additionally, in 2022 the Scottish Government increased their investment in Outdoor Community Play which supports charities across Scotland to provide a range of free play sessions outdoors, with an added focus on supporting parents and facilitating family play and supporting children with additional support needs.  

Giving every child in Scotland a head torch  

As adults we need to create the opportunities and conditions for children to play freely in our streets and green spaces. We need to ensure that Article 31, which embodies the child’s right to play, is upheld. AND we need to role model by getting ourselves up and off the couch, and get outside.   

If we believe in a child’s right to play and want to create a better future for all of Scotland’s children, we must continue to ensure more and better outdoor play opportunities are accessible across Scotland, in all places and spaces. 

Outdoor Play shouldn’t be seen as something that children only do over the school holidays or for those children that are lucky enough to have access to a play space.  All children want to play and as adults all we need to do is let them!  

Think back to when you were a child, what did you do after school, at the weekends and over the holiday periods, what did you do before the streetlights came on?  


Melodie Crumlin,

Thrive Outdoors Fund Manager


Find out more about Thrive Outdoors and the fund’s work across Scotland here.

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