Is this the death of outdoor play?

If you look back and reflect on your childhood now you’re an adult, you will most likely smile at memories of riding your bike, playing hopscotch and playing outdoors with your friends – traditionally, outdoor play is a staple part and often a highlight of every child’s upbringing — but is it in decline?

A report by The Guardian would suggest so. In today’s society, three-quarters of children in the UK receive less than 60 minutes of outdoor play each day. That’s less than prisoners, as UN guidelines are in place to ensure they get a minimum of one hour’s open air activity per day. Alarmingly, one fifth of children do not play outside at all.

Infinite Playgrounds, specialists in the design and installation of wooden playgrounds reviews the decline in outdoor play before discussing why this type of play is so important to your child’s development.

Playtime cancelled: the causes 

It appears children of the new generation don’t have the same opportunities to play outdoors as what their parents did. As part of a survey by Persil, which polled 12,000 parents globally, 64% of parents said they believe that they had greater opportunities to play outdoors than what their children have now. So, what is causing the generational differences in attitudes to outdoor play? There are a number of key causes that can be held responsible.

Too much screen timeImage removed.

Technology can be held responsible as a big influencing factor when it comes to the decline in outdoor play. As tablets and mobile devices have grown in popularity, the number of children accessing the devices has grown – to which many children now choose screen time over outdoor play time. In 2016, the average age for a child getting their first mobile phone was seven. At eight, they get their first tablet and by ten they own a smartphone. 

But how excessive is screen play? One survey found that 37% of children spend one to two hours a day using their gadgets, while a further 28% spent between two and three hours — significantly higher than the time spent playing outdoors. Clearly, our children’s love affair with gadgets is replacing outdoor play.

Lack of supervision

Adults now claim lack of time is an influencing factor against outdoor play as the survey’s findings also show that 50% of parents have little to no time to supervise their child outdoors. The results of another survey by Families Online show that parents will allow children to play unsupervised outdoors when they reach 10.5 years old. 

Parents feel the need to supervise their children at all times, given the growing number of threats in our society. However, these concerns teamed with our parents’ own time constraints are restricting the type of activities our children enjoy, which will ultimately hamper their development.

Too much academic pressure

Recent research revealed that even primary school children are experiencing signs of stress and anxiety around exam periods as academic pressure builds. This suggests that children are feeling pressurised to do well in their exams from a young age. There is a combination of reasons why this is the case; it is believed that many teachers are feeling pressured for their students to perform to qualify for school funding, and some parents are more eager for their children to obtain high grades than they have been in previous years. 

This extra pressure from exams could be another contributing factor to children’s reluctance to play outdoors as they are choosing to stay home and study instead. 

How can we encourage outdoor play?

Parents have a reason to be cautious about letting their children play outdoors on their own, however, forbidding them from leaving the house is not the way forward either – children need to become socially aware of their surroundings and given some independence as they grow up. There are actions that you can take as a parent to encourage outdoor play.

Making sure your child is socially aware is easily achieved – make sure that your child is aware of stranger danger and knows how to react should they be approached by an unknown person. Knowing that your child is aware of this can give you comfort in allowing your little one to play outdoors. 

Don’t plan every minute of your child’s day – allow some flexibility. When children are young, often parents fill up their child’s time with extra-curricular activities such as sports or clubs. This is still important, however, ensure that these activities aren’t dominating your child’s life. Paired with homework, your child’s day can fill up pretty quickly and it’s important that they have some time on their hands spare. In this time, encourage them to be imaginative with play and try not to let your children rely on technology for entertainment. 

With younger children, encourage them to use their own imagination – try and let them take the lead in coming up with games and activities. This will encourage imaginative play that hopefully they will practice in the future too. Introduce toys that encourage creativity too, perhaps ones that are less technology oriented.