Improving Outdoor Play Spaces

A Better Start

The work taking place across the A Better Start partnerships is varied, and includes significant components such as:

  • Implementing new programmes, services and initiatives, as well as developing existing services and supporting new more joined-up ways of working;
  • Community engagement, in particular involving parents as equal partners in planning and delivery;
  • Supporting workforce development.
Claire Dorris

Alongside this, each A Better Start partnership is investing in improving community

buildings and outdoor and shared spaces which will benefit young children and their families. Over the coming months, the National Children’s Bureau team will be visiting A Better Start partnerships to see local projects first-hand, including some of this exciting capital spend.

Our first visit is to Blackpool. Blackpool Better Start has invested significant time and resources to support the redevelopment of parks and recreation space in the town. One such park is Revoe Park, a large green space in the middle of a residential area and previously unused by the majority of the local community. Blackpool Better Start and Blackpool Council, with significant co-production with local community members, have led the redevelopment of the space to include early years play areas, family space and a large community garden.

Physical activity and outdoor play is not just good fun. In the early years it contributes to positive outcomes for young children across several of A Better Start’s objectives: including the development of social and emotional wellbeing, and speech and language. Part of these benefits stem from the positive contribution that physical exercise makes to a child’s development. In 2011, the joint Chief Medical Officers’ report Start Active, Stay Active introduced guidelines for physical activity in 0-5 year olds, recommending that young children should be active for up to 3 hours per day.

The report makes suggestions for how parents can incorporate activity

throughout the day, from birth and upwards, including tummy time and floor play, messy play, jumping, climbing, dancing and playground fun. Alongside this, research has found that spending time outside helps children to build a connection to their environment, as well as boosting their physical and mental wellbeing, not to mention significantly increasing the amount of physical activity they take part in. Getting outside to play is therefore particularly important for young children, and investing time and money to design play spaces that encourage young children to engage with the natural world should be priority.

The needs of very young children, aged 0-3, and their families, have been at the heart of developments in Blackpool, with innovative play areas designed to stimulate development and encourage children to explore the natural world. Early Years Park Rangers regularly lead organised activities and events which aim to promote the healthy development of young children, monitor the park to ensure it is a safe place for young children, and support volunteering so that families can become more involved in caring for the park. More information on the activities of the Park Rangers can be found here.

Local residents have responded enthusiastically to the focus on outdoor activity:

“My child thoroughly enjoyed the Teddy Bear’s Picnic, and I loved the fact it was on the new park. I can’t wait for the next big event.”

“It is my first time here and the session was good. The kids can get creative with different things to play with. It is one and half hours of play instead of watching TV.”
Ewa at a Park Ranger session

“It’s great to be outdoors in all weather and taking part in an organised activity.”
Lyndsay at a forest school session

Revoe Park is only one of the capital spend projects happening in Blackpool and across the other four A Better Start sites. As we get out to visit the other sites, we’ll report back on some of the other exciting ways that the A Better Start sites are using funds to improve spaces for young children.

Useful resources:

Physical Activity in the Early Years: Evidence briefing. National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, Loughborough University, 2015

Dr. Sarah-Anne Munoz (2018) Children in the Outdoors: A literature Review. Sustainable Development Research Centre, Scotland.

Design for Play: A guide to creating successful play spaces. Play England

Play naturally: a review of children’s natural play. Play England.

From muddy hands and dirty faces... to higher grades and happy places. Outdoor learning and paly at schools around the world. Cath Prisk & Dr Harry Cusworth (2018)

UK Chief Medical Officers’ Guidelines (2011) Start Active, Stay Active: A report on physical activity for health from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers.

Start active, stay active (2011) Physical activity for early years (birth – 5) Infographic

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication. The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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