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Nourishing healthy childhoods in play settings


Active play, apples and anoraks: nourishing healthy childhoods in play settings.

Both food and play are vitally important to the health, growth and wellbeing of children. Healthy children who are well fed and nourished have the resources to respond with enthusiasm and engagement to play opportunities and new experiences. Normally, when a child becomes ill, interest in both food and play disappear together, and, when the illness passes, return at the same time.

Public Health Wales has launched a new programme, Every Child Wales, to help parents give children the best possible start in life. The programme brings together lots of information and advice to support parents in giving children a happy and healthy start in life.

The programme, which includes ten steps to support parents to ensure their children are a healthy weight, advises that children should play outdoors every day:

‘Children who play outdoors every day are more likely to be a healthy weight. Give your child the chance to play outdoors every day. Active play, especially outdoors, helps your child develop physically, mentally and emotionally. It helps then develop strong bones and muscles, improves their skills and coordination, and makes them feel better about themselves. It can even help them sleep better.’

At the same time, food poverty is a growing issue in Wales, as indicated by the increasing use of food banks. But there can be many conflicting agendas, differing advice and intervention programmes which can sometimes make it difficult for settings and providers to know what to do for the best.

Interventionist programmes can be useful in minimising some of the damaging impact of lack of physical activity or good nourishment; however, they must be complemented by a focus on supporting children to realise their right to play in their own communities. We know that every aspect of children’s lives is influenced by their urge to play, and that the kind of self-directed, self-determined playing offered by quality play provision increases children’s opportunities to build their own resilience. To help, Play Wales has developed resources and pulled together information for play settings and providers from the play, playwork and children’s rights point of view.

Our Play, playwork and food information sheet considers the provision of food in a play setting. It also provides a number of case studies of projects that have successfully provided food, while giving consideration for hygiene guidelines and opportunities for planting and growing whilst still providing for the play needs of children, so contributing to a healthy childhood.

The Promoting physical activity through outdoor play in early years settings information sheet explores how playing contributes to children’s physical activity levels and how early years practitioners can provide permission, time and space, as well as making materials available, for children to play outdoors. It also provides practical advice on thinking sensibly about health and safety.

Our Resources for playing – providing loose parts to support children’s play toolkit has been developed to support adults in the play, early years and education sectors to provide loose parts play within their settings. Loose parts create richer environments for children to play, giving them the resources they need to extend their play. Environments which can be manipulated, where things move and can be moved open worlds of possibility for children to play, explore and be active.

It can be challenging to navigate numerous messages and programmes; however, adults working with children can act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas. A play-centred approach supports the play process to take precedence and ensures that intervention activity acknowledges play’s characteristics so that children have sufficient flexibility, unpredictability and security to play freely:

  • We consider children’s play spaces as important environments that should be protected.
  • We advocate that children’s play is essential for healthy development and wellbeing. It is a legitimate behaviour and their human right and this applies to all children playing indoors and outdoors.
  • We recognise that children’s play is often chaotic, frantic and noisy, and children’s play spaces are often messy and disordered. Children’s idea of a desirable play space does not always look like an adult’s. We need to be tolerant of mess and dirt and be enthusiastic (even if the weather isn’t favourable!)
  • We can support children’s play by providing loose parts play materials and rejecting over-commercialism.
  • We can prioritise children’s time to play freely. If we over-supervise or over-protect we take away the child’s free choice and the very thing that makes their behaviour play.