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Lifelong learning starts here! On May 15th, Upstart begins a week of activities to alert the Scottish public to the importance of play-based learning for the under-sevens.  It marks the national launch of the Upstart Scotland campaign, and is already attracting attention – in fact, BBC News intends to cover it on TV, radio and online. So it’s a fantastic opportunity to convey the vital importance of early years education in helping children – and Scotland – to flourish.

Blog: Playing for Health's Sake
Upstart needs YOU for National Launch Week!
News from the networks
Upstart events in April
Why play-based EY education works
WHO report: Girls stressed out by cool and school
ADHD – just immaturity?
And now the good news – My World Outdoors!
Testing at five?
Lego supports the Upstart campaign … and Persil cries 'Freedom!'
Quote of the month


We hope all the local networks will organise events and activities. Suggestions for these are included in this newsletter, along with details of resources that will be available through local conveners. So please help us make Sunday, 15th May a day to remember – and find ways of pressing home the message throughout the following week.


This month's guest blog is by Health Play Specialist, Julia Wilkinson. It brilliantly joins the dots between health, well-being and early years education. Please pass it on to any health professionals you know.

Scotland is in the throes of a health crisis. A sugar-laden diet and sedentary lifestyle, dominated by hours spent in front of a screen, are associated with record rates of dental decay, obesity, and the associated long-term health conditions of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. Performance pressure in schools and in the workplace, and the challenges posed by social media, have produced a generation of children and young people reporting unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Alcohol and drug misuse blight the lives of thousands. That’s the bad news… Read more (including the good news!)


Leafleting on Sunday 15th May

We want to kick off launch week by getting Upstart noticed. It's National Children's Day UK so there'll be media interest in stories about children.

  • We have 50,000 Upstart leaflets for distribution to the public during the afternoon (plus balloons, posters, stickers and badges). Can you set up a stand, organise a flash mob, or just set out with a chum to spread the word in your area? More details here 
  • At teatime, there'll be an national launch party in Edinburgh, for supporters, invited guests and media. We hope other networks can organise similar events, and interest local media. More details here.

Monday to Friday, 16th – 20th May

We’ve already had offers from nursery settings, family centres, forest schools and other organisations around Scotland to hold Open Days or Stay and Play sessions to publicise Upstart during launch week. Supporters have also suggested Pop Up Play activities, a Chalk Day, Upstart Information Posts, etc. Could you add to the list? Even more importantly, could you hold an event? We're aiming at 100 Upstart 'happenings' all around the country. More details here

To find out about activities in your local area, contact your local convener or visit your local Facebook page. Details here. If there’s no network near you, please email



By the end of March, Upstart had seven networks around the country and another two are busy setting up. The speed with which the movement has grown is amazing us all. Thanks to everyone who made the effort to attend the meetings below, and even greater thanks to the local conveners and supporters who made the meetings happen.  

8th –  The Dumfries and Galloway network launch was organised in Dumfries by Kim Bannister. An audience of 50 turned out on a cold rainy night to hear Marguerite Hunter-Blair of Play Scotland and Sue Palmer.

14th – In Glasgow, Suzanne Zeedyk was unable to address a meeting at Strathclyde University, due to illness. Her place was admirably filled by Dr Jonathan Delafield-Butt and Hilary Long, who had organised the meeting with co-convener Pamela Graham.

14th – In Dunoon, supporters met to discuss setting up a network in Argyll and Bute in the spring.

21st – The Highland launch in Inverness was organised by Malcolm Baxter and Yvonne Fraser. Around 90 people packed into a seminar room in UHI to hear from local headteacher Cris Ford, Cathy McCulloch (Founder and Director of the Children's Parliament) and Sue. Through the wonders of technology, 17 more joined us onscreen from Orkney and a representative of Argyll and Bute from Oban. See a report by Malcolm, who chaired the meeting here.

22nd – The Aberdeen launch, organised by Claire Hudson and Vicky Ewan, got off to a great start with an impromptu outdoor activity!  An enthusiastic audience of about 200 were then addressed by Scottish educationist David Cameron, outdoor education expert Juliet Robertson and Sue.          

23rd –  Polly Cheer held a meeting in Elgin to discuss the network launch in April and the national launch in May.


Edinburgh national launch planning meeting

Date: 7.00 pm, Monday 11th April
Venue: Royal High Primary School, 61 Northfield Broadway, Edinburgh, EH8 7RX
More information from Willie French: (Eventbrite details here)


Fife election hustings, chaired by Lesley Riddoch
Date: 7.15 pm, Wednesday 13th April
Venue: Elmwood Campus, Carslogie Road, Cupar, KY15 4JB
More information from  Jo Aitken: (Eventbrite details here)

Edinburgh election hustings, chaired by Prof John Davis
Date: 7.00 pm, Thursday 13th April
Venue:  The Moray House School of Education, Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ
More information from  Kate Johnston:  (Eventbrite details here)


Launch of Moray local network
Date: 7.00 pm, Thursday 21st April
Venue:  Elgin Library, Cooper Park, IV30 1HS
Speaker:  John Carnochan, former Director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit and author of Conviction.
More information from Polly Cheer:


In this short video, Professor David Whitebread of Cambridge University and Finnish Professor Kristiina Kumpulainen explain why the the under-sevens need to learn through play. It's powerful evidence for the Upstart cause, so please spread it far and wide! (You might also mention that Finland has just been named the most literate nation in the world and its education system is universally admired.)


Our January blog told of escalating levels of stress in secondary school. This month's makes a direct link between mental health problems and lack of self-directed play in childhood (see also this article by Peter Gray). On March 15th 2016, the World Health Organisation released a survey showing low levels of well-being among UK teenagers in general, and Scottish girls in particular. A staggering 80% of 15-year-old girls in Scotland report high levels of stress.

Parents tend to worry less about girls starting school early because they settle in more easily than boys. But the female potential for 'people-pleasing' is a double-edged sword. A five-year-old who complies with developmentally-inappropriate demands may miss out on experiences that  develop emotional resilience. And ten years later, a 21st century girl needs all the resilience she can muster to cope with the combined pressures of hyper-competitive consumerist values, social networking and high-stakes testing.   


Remember the study from the US National Bureau of Economic Research in autumn 2015 (Newsletter 4) showing that children who start school later are less likely to suffer from attention deficit and hyperactivity?  Last month there was more research, this time from Taiwan, proving that many children diagnosed with ADHD are simply immature. The children concerned are mostly boys because, on the whole, they take longer than girls to develop self-regulation skills.

By asking young children to 'sit still and behave' when their bodies and brains aren't ready to do so, we actively create behavioural problems. And these problems don't just blight the lives of the children concerned. Their consequent learning difficulties cause constant distractions for their teachers and can seriously disrupt the education of all their classmates.


Last month the Care Commission published a wonderful report about the benefits of outdoor play for young children. It includes inspiring case studies, showing what's already happening in many Scottish nurseries, and clear links to SHANARRI. If you haven't already seen it, please click the link, download the report and pass it on!  

My World Outdoors shows that Scotland is responding to international research in terms of its approach to preschool practice – the challenge now is to ensure that a kindergarten ethos continues throughout the early years.      


The following quote, from Dr John Thomson, Rector of Jordanhill School, Glasgow (for children 4 - 18) comes from a speech that was generally supportive of standardised assessment in the later stages of the educational system.

‘I gave up the better part of 10 years ago, trying to report on the attainment levels of young people before the end of Primary 3 because it doesn’t mean anything. I find no meaning in any of the numbers that we look at and you might tell from this I’m a mathematician and a physicist by training. There’s no meaning in the numbers and we shouldn’t look for meaning that isn’t there.’

(Heard at a Scottish Policy Conference on reducing inequality in attainment,  8-3-16)

Dr Thomson remarks are well-supported by other research. The current situation regarding 'baseline testing' in England is summarised in an article by (Scottish educationist) Margaret Clark in the March 2016 Education Journal  – see the second page of this linkUpstart is sending the article to the Scottish Government, in the hope they'll think again before testing our P1s.


On March 29th, Save the Children published Lighting up young brains: how parents, carers and nurseries can support children's brain development in the first five years, which focuses particularly on language development.  It's a 'prequel' to Read On, Write On, which significantly affected the Scottish Government's 'Read, Write, Count' project for 3-8 year-olds and the decision to introduce testing at 5.  

While Save the Children's call for a well-qualified EY workforce is welcome, there are dangers in over-focusing on cognitive development from birth. Children are not just brains (they have bodies too, and physical development is closely connected with emotional, social and cognitive maturation).  And, as this blog post by Dr Pam Jarvis points out, the developmental needs of the under-threes are very different from the over-threes. There are more interesting points in this article by someone in England who shares Upstart's aims (you might want to sign her petition).


In March two multinational corporations came out in support of Upstart's aims. LEGO denounced formal education before the age of eight and will be funding a professorship in play-based learning at Cambridge. Persil (part of Unilever) relaunched its 'Dirt is Good' campaign with the startling news that convicted criminals are entitled to more time outdoors each day than children. They're also promoting an 'Empty Classroom Day' on June 17th when schools take learning outside.


Last week US Professor of Psychology, Alison Gopnik, published this piece in the Wall Street Journal about the developmental significance of childhood. On 26th August, she will share a platform at the Edinburgh Book Festival with Sue, who's completely knocked out because Professor Gopnik's work has influenced her writing for many years.  

So our quote of the month is one that appears in the Upstart  book:

'If you look across the animal kingdom, you'll find that the more flexible the adult is, the longer that animal has had to be immature. I think that  even the term pre-schooler is a bit misleading. It implies that our job is to get children ready for school and that school is where the important things happen.  But pre-school isn't just about readiness. It's an important stage in its own right.'  

Professor Alison Gopnik

We hope you don't mind our sending this Newsletter. If you do, please email asking to be taken off the mailing list.

But If you agree with Upstart's aims, please help us spread the word by forwarding this Newsletter on to any friends, colleagues and networks that might be interested.   

Onwards and upwards!   

The Upstart Team

Copyright © 2016 Upstart Scotland, All rights reserved.
This newsletter will keep you informed of all actions we are taking in order to guarantee the best Education for Scotland's children and the differents ways you can contribute to the campaign.

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