Outside formal education, out of school care (OSC) services are the main providers of daily play opportunities and activities for school-aged children in Scotland. SOSCN is committed to ensuring children's rights to play, care and learning are met within services.

Play is one of the things that children value the most about out of school care: in a recent SOSCN survey of children using out of school care, 34% of children said 'play' or 'playing' was the best thing about their out of school care. This was also the top answer.

'You get outside! Play with friends.' (Boy, 10)

'I like to play games.' (Boy, 6)

'You can meet new people and play fun games.' (boy, 9)

'Play and play and have fun!!!' (Girl, 6)

'To play and to have fun indoors and outdoors.' (Girl, 9)

'The best thing is being able to spend time and play with friends.' (Girl, 10)


In June 2013 the Scottish Government published a play strategy for Scotland which was followed by an action plan in October 2013.

Play Strategy for Scotland

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Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Action Plan

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In simple terms play is seen to be an innate biological action by all children to have fun, which subsequently enhances their development and wellbeing physically, psychologically and socially.


Play is a right for all children under the UNCRC- Article 31 of the convention states:

1. States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

In short, all children have the right to play and it is not something that should be 'earned' through positively-perceived behaviour or 'denied' because of negatively-perceived behaviour.


A Booklet for a Richer Understanding of Children's Right to Play

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General Comment on the right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts

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The Health and Social Care Standards, the standards by which the Care Inspectorate regulates and inspects services, places a duty on out of school care services to provide specific play opportunities for children:

'1. I experience high quality care and support which is right for me.'


1.30 As a child, I have fun as I develop my skills in understanding, thinking, investigation and problem solving, including through imaginative play and storytelling.

1.31 As a child, my social and physical skills, confidence, self-esteem and creativity are developed through a balance of organised and freely chosen extended play, including using open ended and natural materials.

1.32 As a child, I play outdoors every day and regularly explore a natural environment.

'2. I am fully supported in all decisions about my care and support.'


'2.27 As a child, I can direct my own play and activities in the way that I choose, and freely access a wide range of experiences and resources suitable for my age and stage, which stimulate my natural curiosity, learning and creativity.'


'Health and Social Care Standards'

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The Playwork Principles were endorsed by Skillsactive in May 2005; in essence they promote play centred on the child's needs and wants, and not following a play agenda led by adults. Staff have a duty to support and enable positive play opportunities for children but where and when direct intervention is required then this must be undertaken with sensitivity and care.

'These Principles establish the professional and ethical framework for playwork and as such must be regarded as a whole. They describe what is unique about play and playwork, and provide the playwork perspective for working with children and young people. They are based on the recognition that children and young people's capacity for positive development will be enhanced if given access to the broadest range of environments and play opportunities.

  1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.
  2. Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests in their own way for their own reasons.
  3. The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.
  4. For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas.
  5. The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.
  6. The playworker's response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up to date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.
  7. Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people's play on the playworker.
  8. Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention myst balance risk with the developmental benefit and well being of children.'

(Endorsed by Skillsactive, May 2008)

Whilst SOSCN fully endorses the Playwork Principles we would additionally state that it is the duty of out of school care services to introduce children to new play opportunities and experiences- children's choice should not be limited by their experience and understanding. New experiences and opportunities must be introduced in order to expand children's choice and ultimately their development.


The phrase 'cotton wool kids' is sometimes used to describe children who are overly protected from risk and challenge, and 'health and safety' or the 'Care Inspectorate' are cited as reasons for not allowing children to undertake more challenging activities such as climbing trees or using hammers and saws. The reality is that both the Health and Safety Executive and the Care Inspectorate recognise that providing children with challenges and risks to overcome in play can actually provide beneficial developmental and learning opportunities. By giving children challenges they can learn how to minimise the risks and develop strategies to overcome dangers- children learn self-regulation, problem-solving skills etc.

Along with risk assessments it is recommended that risk benefit assessments are undertaken – instead of banning an activity due to risk of harm or injury, the learning/developmental benefits of the activity are assessed alongside ways of minimising the risk. If the benefits of the activity outweigh the risks, then there is reason to proceed with the activity. It is also recommended that children are involved in both the risk assessment and risk benefit assessment procedures.

Many services are now providing more challenging activities such as climbing trees, cooking on open fires, using tools to build structures etc., however in order to deliver these activities staff need to be confident in delivering them. Children and parents also need to be able to trust that staff have the necessary skills to deliver them. Additional training or information sharing is probably required where a service wishes to deliver more challenging play to children.

One thing to note is that services need to check that their insurance covers riskier activities- it may be that additional cover needs to be taken out.

The resources below contain position statements from the Health and Safety Executive and the Care Inspectorate about risk in play, as well as further information and sample forms from Learning Through Landscapes about risk management in delivering challenging play opportunities.


Health and Safety Executive: Children's Play and Leisure – Promoting a Measured Approach

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Care Inspectorate: Positive approach to risk in play

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Learning Through Landscapes (Scotland) Risk Management

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It is important that play opportunities are provided for ALL children regardless of ability, gender etc. For children with disabilities, games and play can usually be easily adapted to make them accessible, it may just require some creative thinking.

In terms of gender equality, services should be aware that they do not gender play and that play and activities are open to both and girls. This may mean encouraging/showing children that they can play with whoever/whatever/however they want, and also changing attitudes of staff and parents.


Making Play Inclusive: A resource for play settings

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Gender Equal Play

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The health and wellbeing benefits of outdoor play and access to natural spaces is well documented. As per the Health and Social Care Standards, children should be able to access daily outdoor play and preferably contact with nature and green spaces. Services which do not have direct access to outdoor or natural spaces should endeavour to take children to local parks and other areas of local green space, although this can be harder during term-time.

Outdoor kindergartens and outdoor out of school care services are becoming increasingly common- these are services which are wholly or mostly located outdoors all year round.

The resources below include a National Position Statement on Outdoor Play developed by Scotland's Outdoor Play and Learning Coalition, of which SOSCN is a member, and guidance on delivering outdoor play opportunities.


National Position Statement on Outdoor Play

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My World Outdoors

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Out to Play: Practical guidance for creating outdoor play experiences in early learning and childcare

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It is recognised that play is not restricted to one particular type- children play in a myriad of different ways. It is important that the OSC environment and resources available encourage a diversity in the way in which children play.

Free play is a way of describing play which is freely chosen, and directed by children without interference from an adult, or another child. Whilst we at SOSCN believe that children should be able to direct their own play, we also recognise that children should also be introduced to new play opportunities and experiences to expand their play repertoire and life opportunities. After all, 'children only know what they know'- it is up to staff to show that there are opportunities and possibilities beyond what the children may currently know or experience. True choice is not about asking a child what they want to do without providing new offers but asking what they want to do from a pallet which goes beyond their current realm of experience.


Play Types Toolkit. Bringing more play into the school day

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Loose parts play has gained popularity in recent years and concerns physical play resources which provide open-ended and creative play opportunities, so this is not about specific toys but items such as pipes, pieces of wood, tyres, ropes, pieces of material, tarpaulins, wooden pallets, cardboard boxes etc.

The loose parts can be played with in many different ways and allow for the creation of temporary structures or play scenarios. Loose parts can be used both indoors and outdoors although some of the items may be more suited to one particular environment.

Crucially loose parts are not expensive- they can be discarded, donated or low-cost items. For example, often garages are willing to donate old tyres and construction companies are happy to provide piping off-cuts etc.


Loose Parts Toolkit

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This place is like a building site. A report on the introduction of loose parts materials to three primary schools in North Lanarksire

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last updated: 29/11/2023