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Role of play is paramount

Play is an essential part of every child's life and is vital for children's enjoyment of their childhood. When children are asked about what they think is important, playing and friends usually top the list. So what do we mean by "playing"?

It can be defined as: "What children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests, in their own way, and for their own reasons" which can be simply "what children and young people do when they are not being told what to do by adults". However, because it is a child's most natural impulse, this most fundamental and vital part of growing up has been increasingly taken for granted.

If play is a natural impulse, why do adults need to help? Research shows that play has many benefits for children, families and the wider community, and playing with your child is one of the most wonderful things about being a parent.

Children's access to play support can increase their self-awareness, self- esteem, and self-respect, which improves and maintains their physical and mental health. Play can build resilience and provide opportunities to learn about the environment and the wider community.

The City of Edinburgh Council's play policy recognises the importance of play for children, and on the first Wednesday of each August, National Playday is a celebration of children's right to play, and a campaign that highlights the importance of play in children's lives.

Edinburgh's Playday in The Grassmarket was an example of the joy of play as a city street was transformed for over 500 children and families to play with low-cost and reclaimed materials in a way that could be replicated at home on a small scale.

One parent said: "It makes you wonder why you buy expensive toys." And another: "It was so refreshing to see kids having fun, using their imaginations and learning new things while getting wet, sandy and dirty, with little of the over-cautious health and safety `police' to curtail the fun."

Margaret Westwood, senior play development officer, City of Edinburgh Council.

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