Improving Outdoor Play Spaces
Capital investment and improving outcomes for young children - by Claire Dorris
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.
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.
About A Better Start
A Better Start is a ten-year project 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 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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