University Centre Doncaster was thrilled to introduce Sue Palmer as their Keynote speaker at the 11th Early Conference, Detoxing Childhood, held at High Melton. Sue, a literacy specialist, also writes about child development in the modern world. Renowned for her provocative views and proactive focus on play-based learning; she is also Chair of the Upstart Scotland campaign to introduce a kindergarten stage for children aged 3-7.

Touching on current issues and interesting topics such as modern day play and risk assessing, thought provoking and insightful content throughout the course of the day excited and inspired all that were lucky enough to partake.

Technology, Schoolifictaion and Play-Based Learning.

What do parents want when their child starts school?

The hundreds I’ve asked usually come up with a three-point wish list. They want their offspring to learn the 3Rs. To settle happily into school, getting along with other children. And to enjoy learning, so they’ll go on to secondary school ready to take full advantage of the rest of the educational system.”

Yet, despite many years of curriculum initiatives, British children still lag behind in international surveys of literacy and numeracy, and the data for this has been captured by Eurydice and UNICEF in their studies of international childhood well-being. School readiness is not about the 3 Rs …. play is essential for life readiness. It is in play that children learn social skills – how to make friends, sort out disputes, get along in a group, and agree on rules, collaborate and (when necessary) avoid enemies. Self-regulation and resilience are key.

Play is a tool where children acquire a common-sense understanding of the world.   Simple accidents are like scientific lessons such as: learning about gravity when we fall out of a tree; creating friction when we roll down a hill;

…science when we mix a mud pie;

…or work on our forty-fifth version of petal perfume!

Physical coordination and control is developed through play, so children can sit in a classroom and listen when the teacher converts these lessons into scientific knowledge.

Outdoor play is a ‘hot topic’. Although the international influences such as Forest Schools are impacting positively on early years provision, this is often squashed by the tick box, bureaucratic health and safety led culture in settings,  and the lack of free outdoor play at home.  This is often in short supply, and yet it is where children acquire the emotional skills transition through life. The self-confidence that grows from solving problems and the self-esteem gained by overcoming problems was cited as the most useful wellbeing tool to acquire.


The media influence instils fear of allowing children freedom while technological advances, squash the desire and apparent need to be outdoors and are a sort of babysitter from infancy and beyond.

There are social and emotional outdoor play based skills which are essential in developing the quality that psychologists now reckon most important of all – resilience: The capacity to bounce back from adversity, to learn from mistakes and build on failure. So even if that forty-fifth batch of petal perfume smells ghastly, or the den collapses, or the go-kart falls apart leaving you battered and bruised, there’s always another day.

Denying children the opportunity to learn all these lessons and acquire all these skills is a risk not worth taking. In the words of the children’s campaigner Lady Allen of Hurtwood: ‘Better a broken bone than a broken spirit.’

For more information: and

Up-to-date information on play policy and activities can be found on the websites of the national play organisations:




Northern Ireland: