How can we encourage our children to spend more time playing outside?

Each one of us has fond childhood memories that we hold dear; whether we were out climbing trees or riding bikes with our friends, we were always playing outside. The highlight for many of us was that we got to spend so much time out exploring our surroundings and having fun. There has been a notable decrease in childhood activity in recent years however. A report by the Guardian in 2016 showed that three quarters of UK children play outdoors for less than one hour per day. Surprisingly, this is actually less exercise than prisoners are required to have; guidelines published by the UN stipulate that prisoners must have at least one hour of outdoor exercise or activity every day. The same report also showed that one fifth of children don’t play outside whatsoever.
So, what is the reason behind this decline in children playing out and how can we encourage them to be active? Infinite Playgrounds, who specialise in the design and installation of wooden plagrounds examine the reasons for the decrease in outdoor play time and explore why it is so important in helping children to develop creative skills.

Why are children playing out less?
Persil recently surveyed 12,000 parents all over the world and found that 64% of parents believe that they had they had more opportunities to play outdoors than their own children have now. So, what are the main causes of this?
Too many gadgets:
One of the main influencing factors is, of course, technology. Over the last few decades, we have seen huge technological developments taking place, leading to the use of tablets, gadgets and mobile phones becoming widespread. This means that more children than ever before now have access to these devices. A study from 2016 found that the average age for children to receive their first mobile phone was seven. By the time they were eight years old, they would own their first tablet and by age ten, they would own their own smartphone.
It is clear that our children have a lot of love for their gadgets; a survey showed that 37% of children spend one to two hours per day on their gadgets and devices, whilst 28% spend between two to three hours - considerably more time than they spend playing outdoors.
Academic pressure:
Exams can also lead to stress and anxiety for children. According to research, this can begin from as early as primary school age, indicating that children feel pressure to perform well at school from a very young age. The reasons for this vary; it’s thought that some teachers are under a great deal of pressure for their students to perform well in their exams in order for the school to get funding. In addition, parents can sometimes be eager for their children to perform as well as possible in their exams and maintain their high grades.
This extra added stress and pressure could potentially be a factor as to why children are reluctant to play outside as they may be choosing to stay at home in order to complete homework or study.
No time for parental supervision:
According to the same survey, around half of parents simply don’t have enough time to supervise their children when they are playing outside. This could mean that children are limited in how much they actually have access to outdoor play. Research by Families Online found that parents do not usually allow their children to play outdoors without supervision until they are 10.5 years old.
Given the number of possible threat factors in our society today, it is completely normal for parents to have their concerns. When combined with time constraints however, these can restrict the number of activities that our children have access to, which can harm their development in the long run.
How can we encourage children to be more active?
Of course, parents should still be cautious when their children are asking to play outdoors, but keeping them indoors at all times isn’t the right way to fix the issue either. If we want to encourage our children to be more active, there are many other options. Parents could try taking their children on a day trip to an adventure playground or local park.
It’s also important to teach children the rules of stranger danger so that they know how to act if they are approached by anyone unfamiliar. Being aware that your children know the dangers and how to act will give you some peace of mind when they do decide to play outside.
It is also a good idea to make time for more unstructured activities. Many children have their time occupied with activities such as sports and after school clubs. Although these remain important, we should make sure that they don’t take over the schedule. Children can have pretty packed days and it’s important to give them some time to choose their own activities as it encourages creativity – just try not to let them rely too much on gadgets for their entertainment.
When it comes to younger children, it’s a good idea to let them take charge and come up with their own ideas for games and activities - this helps to develop their creativity. Introducing some toys that are less tech based is also a good idea as it helps keep them away from their gadgets for a while.

*This is a collaborative guestpost

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