Where will children’s play be under this Conservative government? Part 3

Cath Prisk
Thursday, May 21, 2015

Okay so we’ve looked at communities and at the statutory sector, where else could play, and in particular outdoor play, thrive under the new government?

Well I predict…

3) More outdoor nurseries!

One of the most inspiring changes in early years over the last few years has been the increase in all outdoor nurseries, increased forest school provision and some far improved outdoor spaces. Admittedly the latter are mostly in Scotland, but not all.

With the commitment to double the free childcare allowance for three- and four-year-olds in England, the fact is finding the space will be difficult. Where I live in Hackney you have to put your child’s name down on the day of birth to have a hope of securing a space at three, and though that isn’t the experience everywhere it certainly isn’t unusual.

So where are all those three- and four-year-olds going to go? You can bet the pared-to-the-bone funding for the assisted places doesn’t come with a capital budget.

So how about following the example of the Into The Woods nursery in Highgate and the Secret Garden Nursery in Fife by moving outdoors year round? All the outdoor nurseries I’ve spoken with over the years have been swamped with applications. There is a far bigger appetite than might be realised, though to date the number of funded or subsidised places is limited, in England at any rate.

Even operating a few additional hours outdoors not only saves on space budgets, but the benefits for the children are HUGE. The loose parts available increases exponentially, the immediate topics for play and conversations is widened and the health benefits are well reported.

So there you have it. I think I can confidently predict there won’t be any national strategy that shapes or invests in play, and the onus will be on local providers, schools and councils to make the case that is right for them to increase or sustain investment in most provision. Adventure playgrounds will continue to be at risk in a world that looks at every inner city bit of land as a commodity, and that doesn’t recognise ‘play’ as an end in itself. But, with increased independence, a focus on physical activity and a pressure to increase childcare places potentially comes more outdoor play as a perfect solution.

So in short I predict:

  • More street play explicitly supported by councils
  • More innovative ways to provide playtime and play-based wraparound care around the school day
  • More outdoor nurseries

I hope and pray those all include making best use of trained playworkers and locally based play organisations who can help nurseries, schools and communities in improving spaces and opportunities to play outdoors.

Well many of you reading this will be a position to help make it so, so lets do it.

Cath Prisk runs her own social enterprise Outdoor People, and is a trustee for The Wild Network. She was formerly director of Play England?

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