“If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.”

Not sure if  I completely agree with the last part of Einsteins equation but how important is his message that Success is a product of work & play. But what do we mean by ‘Play’.

I had heard the phrase ‘heuristic play’ many times without really understanding it. I think I just heard the word play and ignored the word heuristic as something that  had been tagged on to make professionals feel more important about what they do. My background as a psychiatric nurse has perhaps made me a little cynical about fancy titles for simple concepts – as there are a hundred and one different therapies with exotic names, which in practise are little different from each other. The word came up again in a recent discussion about a play strategy for East Lothian. I had to admit my ignorance and asked Maureen Black (East Lothian’s play guru) what it meant  and she gave me the following definition.

heu·ris·tic – from the Greek word eureka meaning discovery

Maybe discovery play would be simpler – but it does describe why play is so powerful for learning and why it is so much fun. It also helps me to understand why somebody like Einstein would include play as an essential part of his formula for success. Discovering the world around you using all of your senses to make sense of it, order it, understand how you can interact with it, and change it. Discovering how the universe worked might not have been child’s play, but without being able to play Einstein might not have made such a success of it.

Another play word I have learn recently is – schema.

At an early years conference I listened to  some staff from a Midlothian Surestart centre talk about how they had taught other staff the princples of heuristic play. They focused on schemas – this is where children exhibit typical behaviours as they play such as transporting, enveloping, enclosing, assembling,  circling, horizontal and vertical displacement. A schema is a pattern of observable behaviour which children display over and over again. This was one of those eureka moment for me as it made sense of my own experience with young children, especially babies and toddlers. What parent has not witnessed a child repeatedly taking an object in and out of another object or a child utterly absorbed in moving things from one place to another an back again. Of course what children are doing as they work through their schemas is discovering their world  and making it understandable  and coherent

I think I have always understoon play as something that is natural for children – and something they need to be able to do to discover how their world works and where they fit into it. Concepts like heuristic play and schemas help me to understand the very complex things that are going on when children play

‘Loose materials & Play’

A small group of staff from East & Midlothian went to visit the schools featured in this short video at the invite of Grounds for Learning. The group included a teacher from Whitecraig Primary, and the team leader for a pre-school centre managed by Midlothian Surestart.. Whitecraig and two Suretart centres are now working with GfL to introduce natural loose materials into the playground. A P1 teacher at Wallyford primary is also working with a local artist to find ways of using different materials in their playground area – this time with an emphasis on recycled materials. Excited to see how these projects develop and hope they prove to be exemplars for other schools and pre-school centres in the use of loose materials for more imaginative play opportunities.

Natural Outdoor Play – in the playground

Another great report on the value of outdoor play opportunities for children. This one by the Forestry Commission on a project at Merrylees School in Glasgow. Thanks to Judith Wood for high lighting this report.

Lots of East Lothian schools and nurseries are thinking along these lines often initiated or prompted by parents. It is something parents can really help schools achieve  Its fun – its healthy – and its good for the birds and beasties and if that’s not enough reason then it also helps children’s learning. So if you like what you read – get your parent council interested and get stuck in!

Natural Play Study_Forestry Commission_100811[1]


Natural Play: Making a difference to children’s learning and wellbeing

presents the findings of a longitudinal study of the pioneering partnership between Forestry Commission Scotland, Glasgow City Council and Merrylee primary school in Glasgow. It provides evidence to show that children’s engagement with a natural play space within school grounds has a multitude of positive impacts on their learning and physical and emotional wellbeing. The study also provides a value for money assessment, concluding that the cost of developing natural play spaces is comparable with those of building traditional tarmac playgrounds. In view of the benefits outlined in the report, it is argued that the provision of a natural playspace within school grounds represents excellent value for money.


Nature Play & Nurture

Whitecraig primary made a short video about their experience as a exemplar for the nature, play and nurture training held at the school earlier this year. This involved the nursery class working with Aline Hill from Big World training and Ros Marshall a nursery teacher and forest school leader, to run an outdoor learning programme. The programme included sessions that could be observed by staff taking a three day course in Nature Play & Nurture. Stobhill Primary in Gorebridge is currently hosting this training and acting as the exemplars. A further course will be available in the spring.



The Year to come

The Scottish Government recently published its spending priorities for the next year. I’ve taken the section on early years and reprdouced it below.  There is a lot in it and much to be excited about.

However, it seems odd that the coming year has the promise of being a great period of opportunity for early years and early intervention. I say odd because there is also a lot of fear about the future in the real world. My wife (a nurse) came home this evening with  the ‘news’  from the NHS staff grapevine that people on my pay grade in the NHS are to be made redundant. Whether this is real or  chinese whisphers it represents the uncertainty which many families feel. Pay freezes and rising bills mean that for families in work things are tighter, and a changing benefits system is a real concern for some of the poorest families.  There is little doubt that the next few years are going to be tough for families and services.

What will turn high profile support for early years and early intervention into more resilient families or better support for families that are struggling and prevent families from ‘failing’? Scotland is good at policy, but policy makers need to bring ordinary families with them so that we can all believe that we can contribute to a future Scotland that will be a better place for children.

From the Scottish Spending Review and draft budget document

In 2012-13 we will:

i) Have a greater focus on early years by:

– introducing legislation on the rights of the child and young people;

– consulting on legislation for the early years and early intervention – a draft Children’s Services Bill for introduction later in this parliamentary term;

– introducing an Early Years and Early Intervention Change Fund and working with partners to focus Scottish public sector spend on early intervention, accelerating the implementation of the early years framework

–  delivering the next phase of the Play Talk Read programme and developing a national parenting strategy that encourages agencies to work together to support new parents, giving parents the skills they need to best support their children;


In addition, we will develop support for families to meet a range of needs, including a new generation of family centres, flexible childcare options, and support for families in conflict.

ii) Help improve the life chances of vulnerable children and young people by:

– continuing the implementation of Getting it Right for Every Child ensuring that universal services deliver for the most vulnerable children;

– implementing the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 to improve outcomes for children and young people, and their families, who experience the Children’s Hearings System;

– working with partners to strengthen strategy and practice around looked after children and young people, children and young people at risk of going into care and young people who offend, giving a greater focus to earlier and more effective interventions to improve outcomes for some of our most vulnerable children and young people, and their families and communities, and to reduce the bureaucratic burdens on those working with them;

– driving and supporting the development of a competent, confident, valued social services workforce, primarily through the Scottish Social Services Council.

 – working with the Care Inspectorate to develop a new integrated children’s services inspection, ready for piloting in 2012; and

 – improving guidance for frontline child protection professionals: – on working with children affected by parental substance misuse; in families where disability is a key factor; on assessing the risks for vulnerable children; and on training.


Roots & Fruits

Two East Lothian community grups have worked with schools to develop gardening for learning and health promotion. The work was developed using the champions development fund. The video describes the work they have been doing.

Dads2be & Pre-Conception Health Advice

One of the reports in my post holiday ‘to read’ file is a short briefing from Children in Scotland on pre-conception health. This is aimed at Scotland’s quarter of a million children and young peoples workforce. Its short, written in plain English, and with lots of references if you want more detail. Discussing this briefing at a team meeting would be an easy way for managers to contribute to the prevention / early intervention agenda.

EYPP Briefing — Preconception Health 511[1]

Looking at the Children in Scotland website I noticed that the new Dads2Be resource is now available. This is a resource for professionals involved in ante-natal education to provide advice and support tailored to the needs of Dads ante-natally.

You can view the resource on the  Children in Scotland website.

Contact, 0131 222 2440 or, 0131 222 2412 for more information and/or CD Rom copies of the Dads2b Resource (FREE while stocks last).

Start Active – Stay Active

Having spent the last two weeks blissfully on holiday – I returned to the usual full in-box. Amongst everything else I have made a new ‘to read’ file of all the recent reports and reviews that have been sent to do with early years health and well being. Will post up links to some of these reports as I read through them.

The first was highlighted to me by Laura Hamilton senior health promotion specialist for physical activity – Start Active Stay Active It is a joint report by the UK’s four chief medical officers outlining the benefits of physical activity. Luckliy I had had a very physically active holiday so I was feeling quite virtuous as I dipped in and out of the report (as had my 11 year old daughter who is at home nursing a blister after a trip up Ben Lawers yesterday).

I note that the guidlines for physical activity for children have changed and that they have been given a specific early years slant for the first time. The headline summary is below but there are some very useful short guidance documents for different age stages  on the Depatment of health website. The guidlines on the DOH website splits the under 5 age group into walking and not walking – which seems to be very helpful.

EARLY YEARS (under 5s)
1. Physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor-based play and water-based activities in safe environments.
2. Children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day.
3.  All under 5s should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (being restrained or sitting) for extended periods (except time spent sleeping).

1.  All children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day.
2. Vigorous intensity activities, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, should be incorporated at least three days a week.
3.  All children and young people should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods.

The executive sumary of the report notes that the evidence for the impact of physical activity on health and well being is conclusive, but is evidence enough to change policy on transport – fast food outlets – urban planning – school timetables etc etc.

In conclusion, we know enough now to act on physical activity. The evidence for action is compelling, and we have reached a unique UK-wide consensus on the amount and type of physical activity that is needed to benefit health.

Parenting and health inequality

Attended a 1/2 day conference held by the Growing Up in Scotland team earlier this week. The session was led off by the new early years minister Angela Constance and one phrase in her speech caught my attention in particular.

As parents its what we do, not who we are, that is most important.

By which I think she meant that parents who are facing adversity in the form of poverty or poor health can do as good a job as parents who aren’t facing the same adversity. I think we all know that to be true, or at least we want it to be true.

However, it is also true that many parents do become overwhelmed by the adversity they face in bringing up children. Talking to some head teachers in the last week or so has highlighted this for me. In the run up to the summer holidays many parents and children face the summer holidays not with a sense of joy and opportunity, but with with a sense of foreboding -‘how am I going to cope without the structure that school and nursery provides’. For many children this fear is expressed in terms of their behaviour in school, and for the child protection system I suspect it is reflected in the number of Initial Referral Discussions that take place in the run up to the summer holidays. ( I would guess that the economic climate is making the summer holiday period even harder for some parents this year?)

Services are responding with partnership approaches to supporting families over the summer period. In Midlothian Equally well champions are using their development fund to support a project called ‘Play in the Park’ which has been developed in the Woodburn community over a number of years, and will extend it to the neighbouring community in Mayfield, they are also exploring ways of further supporting transition from nursery to P1.  In East Lothian champions are currently discussing whether to support for  a second year a Summer transition programme supporting parents of children who are moving from nursery to P1 who need some additional support

Talking about parenting skills always makes me a bit twitchy, partly because even if nobody is else is making judgements about me as a parent I cant’ help making judgement about myself. For the same reason I have never felt completely comfortable with parenting courses / programmes which are the focus of many parenting strategies. More fundamentally than doubts about my own performance I also wonder whether parenting programmes over emphasise the individual parent behaviours rather than the wider family and community support that is fundamental to good parenting. It is easier to be consistent with rules, be positive and affirmative and to have a good attachment or connection with your child / children if you feel supported as a parent and can access a network of practical and emotional resources. Angela Constance also spoke about the development of a national parenting strategy for Scotland which was a manifesto commitment for the SNP. I for one hope that it is as strategy for family support as much as a strategy for developing parenting skills.

The GUS team have made a particular study of parenting skills and their relationship with health and a presentation on the findings is linked here There is also an audio file of the presentation from Dr Alison Parkes on the GUS website. The slides are quite complex so the audio file is well worth listening to.


Financial literacy in the early years

Veronica Campanile – East Lothian’s indefatigable community planning policy officer alerted me to the following resource developed by the Scottish Book Trust & partners- they are lovely as well as useful tools

On The Money

Change the way you think about money with this collection of stories from four of Scotland’s top children’s authors. They look at all sorts of things to do with money in fun and useful ways. The stories are guaranteed to make you laugh and think, and look at money as you never have before.

There is also a brand new website dedicated to On The Money, the folowing is from the website.

On the Money is a new book of four stories by Theresa Breslin, Jonathan Meres, Nicola Morgan and Alison Prince, exploring issues of financial responsibility for children.
On the Money combines numeracy with literacy in an innovative way that hasn’t previously been implemented in Scotland. The project goes beyond knowledge and skills and the focus of many existing resources for financial education, to encourage crucial attitudes, values and dispositions relevant to responsible and enterprising financial

On the Money is a free resource that will be distributed to schools throughout Scotland. Standard Life, Learning and Teaching Scotland and Scottish Book Trust
have worked in partnership to produce a book of stories for primary school children to help them become financially informed and aware and to aid their growth into financially capable adults. The aim of the project is to develop the financial capability of primary school pupils as part of their general education. This will give pupils an opportunity to engage with key financial concepts, and to do this in a very creative and enjoyable way. Together we have developed a package of four stories, initially for primary school children, which incorporate issues to do with:

Financial responsibility (such as entrepreneurship and money management, exploration of moral dilemmas to do with money and awareness of  financial systems)
Advice for teachers on how to use the stories to explore the issues with pupils, including dealing with sensitive issues in classes where children come from very different economic and cultural backgrounds
An inclusive DVD resource that includes a British Sign Language video for the Deaf, audio tracks in English and Gaelic, and a presentation of the story illustrations as an aid to teachers who choose to read the stories aloud in the classroom
A website which includes PDFs of each of the stories and of the complete book, a PDF of the support materials, downloadable audio files of each story in English and Gaelic and downloadable British Sign Language versions of
each story.

Here is the link to the web page