A 2018 UK study commissioned by the National Trust found that children are spending 50% less time playing outside than their parents did. Playing outside encourages children to play in a very different way from being inside with computers or TV, making them use their imagination and creativity more. The decrease in outdoor play is a serious matter not only in the UK, but around the world.
The research found that children were playing outside for just over four hours a week, compared to 8.2 hours a week when the adults questioned were children.
While 83% of surveyed parents thought it was important for their children to be comfortable with technology, 96% of them would prefer their children to play outdoors. The parents thought it was important their children had a connection with nature and playing outdoors was important for their development.
Why are fewer children playing outside today?
There has been extensive research into the benefits of outdoor play. Yet it is a fact that children are increasingly living a sedentary lifestyle.
Numerous studies show that this is due to 3 primary issues:
Emphasis on Measurable Activities
With measurable activities, it is easy to determine what has been learned or achieved. Though unstructured play is highly beneficial for a child, it is not measurable. It is hard to say what a child has actually been doing other than playing.
We assume it always safer to have children play indoors in our sights rather than outdoors. But it is exactly the unpredictability of the outdoors that builds confidence and problem-solving capabilities. Playing outdoors and exploring the world around us was once a significant part of childhood.
Technology can seem to make things under control. When children are watching television or browsing on a tablet, they are occupied and in one place. This gives parents time for other activities. This becomes an issue when technology consumes too much of the child’s time and leaves no time for playing outside.
What are the benefits of playing outside?
Childhood should be about getting outdoors and going on adventures, using your imagination to customise the world around you. Playing outdoors will instil a love for nature in children that will help encourage them to continue to protect the beauty of the great outdoors for years and generations to come.
Importantly, outside play will give your child’s immunity a boost. The children are also exposed to more sunlight and fresh air which are both important for your child’s well-being. Children will unlearn how to play freely when exposed to measurable and organised activities only. It will take time for them to develop curiosity and creativity again. But it is worth it for both the children and the parents.
The importance of outdoor play for young children’s healthy development (2017) (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2444866416301234)