Putting play first in the lives of our children

Dr Amanda Gummer, chair of the Association of Play Industries, tells us about their latest campaign – Pathway To Play – and the crucial role that schools have in getting children outdoors, active and playing every day.

‘Pathway To Play’ is a transformative campaign with a singular focus: putting play first in the lives of our children. In today’s world, where screens often compete for attention and schedules overflow with commitments, the simple act of play can sometimes get overlooked. Yet play is not just a leisure activity – it is the foundation upon which healthy, happy childhoods are built.

#PathwayToPlay is more than just a campaign – it is a call to action and a call for change. With a clear vision of fostering children’s well-being, we are urging the UK government to prioritise outdoor play by investing significantly in the UK’s most popular location for outdoor play – public playgrounds.

The statistics speak for themselves: childhood obesity rates are soaring, mental health issues are on the rise and sleep problems affect more and more young people. In the face of these challenges, it is imperative that we take decisive action to ensure that every child has access to safe, high-quality and local outdoor play spaces.

As chair of API and a passionate advocate for children’s play, I am deeply committed to this cause. I have seen first-hand the transformative power of play in enriching the lives of children and strengthening communities. It is time for us to come together - policymakers, educators, parents and advocates - to make play a priority in the lives of our children.

Our #PathwayToPlay manifesto outlines three key commitments that we are calling upon the next UK government to make.

First, we urge the government to conduct a comprehensive national audit of public playgrounds to assess their quantity, quality and location.

Second, we call for the allocation of dedicated government funding to ensure the long-term sustainability of public playgrounds, guaranteeing that every child has access to safe, free-to-use play spaces.

Third, and most importantly for the education sector, we advocate for increasing children’s physical activity levels through outdoor play at school, integrating outdoor learning into the National Curriculum and providing funding for school outdoor play spaces and equipment.

The squeeze on school play time

The API’s campaign champions the rights of children to play and express themselves in a world where opportunities to play are increasingly curtailed – a trend which is sadly all too evident in schools.

With growing concerns about the mental and physical well-being of our children, a profound shift towards embracing play within educational settings is needed.

British children spend 20 per cent of their entire time in school, so it’s time that play is no longer viewed as a ‘nice to have’ and instead accepted for what it is – a fundamental component of normal childhood development and the foundation of a healthy and happy childhood.

We are calling for a structured play plan across all schools, mandating its integration into the national curriculum.

Crucially, we are also calling for it to be funded properly, beginning with reversing the decision to prevent schools spending the Sports Premium on much-needed outdoor play equipment.


Increasing time to play in schools is not without its challenges.

A significant obstacle lies in the relentless pressures imposed by curriculum demands, often squeezing out play time.

The erosion of play opportunities is highlighted by findings from a 2019 study by the University College London Institute of Education, which revealed a disconcerting trend of diminishing break times over the past two decades.

There is always the need to strike a balance between academic rigour and the needs of children to play. However, far from detracting from children’s academic progress, play can and should enhance it. By recognising the intrinsic value of play in fostering cognitive, social and emotional development, educators can confidently advocate for the prioritisation of play in the school setting.

Our call to government represents a concerted effort to usher in the change needed, so that play is not perceived as a luxury but as a non-negotiable element in raising well-rounded young people who can thrive.

The role of schools

School playgrounds often serve as one of the main factors in cultivating a lifelong love of play among children, shaping their experiences and fostering a deep-seated connection with physical activity.

The importance of these outdoor spaces means that the process of choosing the right play environment for schools is a significant one, requiring a lot of thought and research.

But the process, no matter how challenging, will reap rewards. Getting children out of their chairs, away from the classroom and into the fresh air can bring a host of benefits. Children look at the world with fresh eyes when they are outdoors.

Children of all ages learn through play Without even realising, children learn through play and develop knowledge, skills and lessons for life, from confidence and endurance to communication and leadership. It’s not just your Early Years classes that will benefit from learning through play; providing time, space, opportunity and a positive attitude to play benefits children of all ages.

Physical activity boosts concentration, learning behaviour and mood

Children have natural energy and enthusiasm so make the most of it by building physical activity into the whole school day. Use your playground and outside spaces to get children moving during lesson time, break and lunch times, before and after school, and for extracurricular activities, as well as during sport and PE lessons.

It’s not just physical literacy levels that you’ll see improve – schools report improvements in behaviour and wellbeing too.

School is the only safe place for some children to play

For children and young people in some socially deprived communities, school may provide the only  safe outdoor place to play and be physically active.

Open your facilities outside of school hours Many communities lack high-quality facilities for sport and physical activity. Opening your physical facilities to clubs and the local community outside the school day raises the profile of the school within the community while generating an additional income stream.

Our members

Entrusting your play project to a play provider can seem like a daunting process. Members of the Association of Play Industries (API)  are the UK’s leading play companies and are reliable, trustworthy and financially sound.

Backed by the API’s Professional Code of Conduct, they operate to the highest standards and will provide evidence of previous work and references. The API Charter ensures they design exceptional, high-quality play spaces for children of all ages and abilities. 

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