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CALA comes out to play in Highlands

By Tom Ramage

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Highland’s largest children, families and childcare charity launched its ‘Year of Play’ to mark its 35th year of serving communities across the north.

CALA, the Care and Learning Alliance, will host a special series of events throughout 2023 to celebrate children and play – everything from outdoor play to outreach, training to toddler sessions, puddle-jumping to podcasts.

It's all happening for kids with CALA
It's all happening for kids with CALA

And every element will highlight the focused, child and parent-centric approach that has made CALA a vital part of the social fabric across the Highlands and Islands since its inauguration on January 18, 1989.

The ‘Year of Play’ will also look at how play, society and the Highlands have changed over the past four decades with a special exhibition and a conference towards the end of 2023.

Jaci Douglas, the chief executive, said: “CALA has changed hugely over past 35 years, starting life as the Highland Scottish Pre-School Play Association before becoming Care and Learning Alliance in 2006. But while much has changed, the most important thing for children remains the opportunity to play and children’s rights.

“As we enter our 35th year we are reflecting on the impact CALA has had, what we have learned from our long experience and how we continue to support rich, quality play experiences and opportunities in a changing world.

“The Year of Play will include a wide variety of events and opportunities, including 35 pop up play sessions, 35 play leaders/champs trained, 35 podcasts on play based themes, 35 new play resources and many more.

"As always, we are absolutely committed to children’s rights, with children at the heart of all we do so their ideas on how to celebrate and mark this anniversary, as well as plan for the future, will be central to the year’s events .”

Graham Watson, chair of the alliance's volunteer board added: “CALA has been an essential part of Highland life for over 3decades and it is constantly changing and adapting to meet the evolving needs of communities. However the one constant for all of CALA’s existence has been its focus and emphasis on play. Play is such an essential part of life and we want to encourage people of all ages to play.

"After all, as George Bernard Shaw once said, we don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing. It’s also the International Play Association World conference this year which will be held in Glasgow in June so a great way to link our work to the international play community.”

Play time in the stath,with CALA
Play time in the stath,with CALA

Ms Douglas added that CALA will be working with partners and other key stakeholders to ensure the importance of play in supporting child development, curiosity and communication is highlighted and championed.

“According to Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University, around one million new neural connections form every second in the first few years of life, so we need to ensure quality positive early play experiences for all children so they can reach their full potential.

"We also know that Covid has had a massive impact on all children, especially on the speech and language development of young children, but also on social and emotional health for all. Research shows that play for all ages can help support them to recover and bounce back and we will be out providing as many opportunities to play, be active and have fun indoors and outdoors as possible . After all, we all feel better when we play!”

The alliance is a Scottish Charity providing children and families services across Highland

including in 24 early learning and childcare and school aged childcare settings and in communities through support for parent-run parent, baby and toddler groups.

It also runs its own play and learn and pop-up play sessions in partnership with local community organisations.

CALA is a membership organisation supporting services across the sector, gratefully funded by a range of organisations including Highland Council, Scottish Government, NHS Highland, Inspiring Scotland, Corra Foundation, Skills Development Scotland, Highland Child Protection Committee, Highlands and Island Enterprise, Highland TSI and other community partners.

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