Success depends on space to play

20th May 2016 at 00:00

As a literacy specialist, I can’t agree with Jan Dubiel that in early years “wellbeing and mental health should be as important as academic success” (, Opinion, 12 May). At least until age 6, wellbeing and mental health are more important than academic success.

Research shows social and emotional development in early years is the surest indicator of future success. This is probably why Finland, Estonia and Switzerland scored highest in OECD’s latest survey of educational achievement: school there starts at 7. The children have the time and support to develop good foundations for literacy and numeracy without adults obsessing about performance.

In the past children developed social and emotional skills naturally, playing outside with friends: problem-solving, collaborating, sorting out squabbles, making up games, playing “let’s pretend”. This has been replaced by sedentary, solitary, indoor activities, but children need play to develop language, social and self-regulation skills. In light of spiralling mental health problems, we urge people in other UK countries to campaign for a Nordic-style kindergarten stage for under-7s, similar to Upstart Scotland. The health, wellbeing and educational success of children depends on time and space to learn through play.

Sue Palmer

Chair of Upstart Scotland (

Short and tweet

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