Why is outdoor play in decline?

If you reflect on your own childhood, you will likely have fond memories of riding bikes, climbing trees and playing outdoors with friends. Traditionally, outdoor play is a staple part and often a highlight of every child’s upbringing — but is it in decline?

According to a report by The Guardian, 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.

So what is triggering this shift in childhood activity? 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

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.

Screen time

Of course, technology is a hugely influencing factor when it comes to the decline of outdoor play. As tablets and mobile devices have grown in popularity, the number of children accessing the devices has grown. 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.

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.

Supervision time

The survey’s findings also show that 50% of parents have little to no time to supervise their child outdoors. This lack of time could mean that children aren’t able to play outside. 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.

Given the growing number of threats in our society, it’s natural for parents to have concerns. 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.

Academic pressures

Recent research has revealed that children as young as those in primary school, are showing signs of stress and anxiety around exam time. 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?

Of course, parents have every right to be cautious when they’re little ones ask to play outdoors, but preventing youngsters from leaving the house is not the way forward either. There are actions that you can take as a parent to encourage outdoor play.

First, make sure that your child is aware of stranger danger and knows how to react should they be approached by a dangerous person. Knowing that your child is aware of this can give you comfort in allowing your little one to play outdoors.

Encourage unstructured time in your children’s day. 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, take a step back when you are playing with them. 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.  

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