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Playing outside helps children to have a stake in their communities - Inspiring Scotland


The latest articles and ideas from Inspiring Scotland and our partners.


Playing outside helps children to have a stake in their communities

By Jill Fraser, Community Play Performance Advisor

Community is an old and deeply human idea. It is about sharing; people sharing experiences, sharing places and sharing hopes. We gain a sense of community early in our lives. For children, playing is intrinsically linked to a burgeoning sense of belonging to a bigger group of people and a place. Through play, children share experiences and emotions and build a community with friends. They explore the spaces in which they play and understand how to share them.

When children play and share joy in their physical neighbourhood spaces, they get their first experience of community in the wider sense too. Playing outdoors in a shared community space, whether a small patch of grass, a street, or a play park, allows children to connect with their local areas. It’s also a chance to interact with a broader group of people than in school or at home, meaning opportunities for intergenerational activity and enhancing community cohesion.

Children develop a sense of place and feeling of belonging, ownership and inclusion with the place they are growing up. Because local kids are out playing and having fun in their local spaces and can be seen doing so, the wider community benefits from a positive sense of itself as a safe and happy place. Playing outside really is that powerful a tool.

But too many children in Scotland lack the chance to play regularly outside in their communities and opportunities are reduced further for children in deprived areas.

Our Play Rangers model of community play is designed to change that. Play Rangers are professional playworkers who run open access play sessions within a community using open spaces in neighbourhoods close to where children live. They encourage children to attend the free sessions and support parents and carers who may not be able to take their children out or are not comfortable with their children playing out.

It also combats antisocial behaviour, helps build relationships within neighbourhoods and improves children’s self-esteem, social skills and health. It helps bring about lasting improvements to the quality of children’s play, the use of local open spaces and the way communities come together.

We need communities to come together in this way. Children’s play spaces should be an important part of community life as children who play are healthier and more resilient than those who don’t. We need to work together to make spaces safe and accessible for children’s play, to make sure they’re well cared for and free from litter, vandalism, dog mess, crime and antisocial behaviour.

Through our work with the charities who lead Play Rangers activity, we have seen these improvements in action. As children become more visible in their communities and residents become aware that local spaces are used by children for playing, these spaces tend to become better looked after with less dog fouling or antisocial behaviour.

Being increasingly visible also helps children feel more a part of their community. By supporting and empowering children to reclaim their streets and outdoor spaces, their voices become heard and they feel listened to and valued. And including them in decision making helps break down generational barriers and give them a feeling of control over changes and a greater sense of ownership of their place. Some children who attend Play Rangers sessions now undertake ‘poo patrols’ to highlight areas of dog mess and educate residents about dog fouling.

Giving children a voice and an increased feeling of control over their local area helps them to feel more involved in their community and provides a sense of identity and shared purpose. It is this sense of identity and shared purpose that will enable us to build stronger, more engaged communities for the future.

Find out more about Play Rangers

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