Researchers have found that toddlers who spend more time playing on smartphones and tablets are getting less sleep than those who do not. This is according to a study in Scientific Reports, which also found that every hour that youngsters spent per day using a touch screen could be linked to 15 minutes less sleep at night time.

There has been a rapid escalation of touch screens used in the home in recent years, but our understanding of their impact on early childhood development has been lacking. The study, which was undertaken by Birbeck at the University of London, questioned 715 parents of children below 3 years about their children’s usual exposure time to a smartphone or a tablet, as well as their sleeping patterns.

The study revealed that 75% of the children used a touchscreen every day. 51% of the subjects between 6 and 11 months old used a touchscreen on a daily basis, and 92% of the toddlers between 25 – 36 months did too.

Children who play with touchscreens tend to sleep less at night and more during the day. Despite the study being timely, experts say that parents should by no means lose sleep over its findings.

One advantage attributed to the use of touchscreens by the toddlers was the quick development of their motor skills. This, however, was linked to those toddlers who were actively involved in the use of touchscreens rather than passively. Swiping the touchscreen during games instead of just watching videos was shown to accelerate the motor skills of the children.

Due to these new findings, there has been controversy over whether to deny or allow children the use of touchscreens. In response, one of the researchers, Dr Tim Smith claims that since the science is quite immature, plus the fact that humans are lagging behind the technology, it would be very tricky to make a decision as it is quite early to form clear declarations.

Smith, however, suggests the use of the regulations similar to those put in place for the amount of time spent watching television. This means putting a limit on the total time spent on devices, ensuring that children are still involved in physical activities, making sure they are exposed to age-appropriate content as well as avoiding touchscreens during the hour prior to bedtime.

According to Dr. Smith, 10 to 12 hours of sleep for children every day is not a massive amount of time. However, he stressed that sleep comes with its benefits and that every minute of sleep is vital for children’s development.

A cognitive development researcher at the Coventry University, Dr. Anne Joyce commented that “As the first study to investigate associations between sleep and touchscreen use in infancy, this is a timely piece of research”.

In regard to the findings revealed by the research, Dr. Joyce advises that it would be well-worth parents minimising their children’s touchscreen time, as well as other media usage blue light during the hours before their children go to sleep. Dr. Joyce further added that since little information about the touchscreens and their impact on sleep is known, it would not be appropriate to ban them completely.

According to Prof Kevin McConway of The Open University, a child who spends 25 minutes using a touchscreen on daily basis will lose around 6 minutes of their sleep. He reassured parents that “I certainly wouldn’t lose any sleep over these results if I still had young children”.

Being Short-sighted is now a lot more common than it once was. The National Eye Institute recently found that Myopia (the medical term for the condition) has soared by 66% among Americans since the early 1970s. Even more shockingly, it was estimated that as many as 90% of recent high school graduates in China and other East Asian countries could be suffering from short-sightedness.

Myopia develops when the eyeballs grow to be slightly too long. This changes the angle that light enters the eye and means that those suffering from the condition are unable to focus on distant objects. The disorder comes from a combination of genetically inheritance and environmental factors which begin during childhood when the eye growing. It can, however, worsen in early adulthood.

Some experts have connected the rise in Myopia with the many hours spent by young people staring at computers and other screens. However, a study published in JAMA Ophthalmology earlier this month contradicted such opinions. The study found that short-sightedness is on the rise because children are staying indoors more and spending less of their time outside.

This new study is part of a growing body of work which suggests that a lack of direct sunlight can reshape the human eye and impair vision. Staff at King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conducted research into these claims. They examined the vision of more than 3100 older European men and women and asked them about their experiences of spending time outside at each stage of their lives, as well as taking details on their education and careers.

Their biographical information was cross-referenced with historical data about sunlight, which had originally been compiled for research on conditions such as skin cancer. The researchers found strong correlations between the current eyesight of the volunteers and their lifetime exposure to sunlight.

Volunteers who had gotten the most sun between the ages of 14 and 19 were 25% less likely to have developed myopia by the time they were middle-aged. It was also discovered that exposure to sunlight up to the age of 30 had a protective benefit.

The study was headed by Katie Williams, a clinical research fellow at King’s College London. She commented that “people with Myopia have long eyeballs so there must be something in sunlight that affects how the eye grows, especially in childhood”.

While it’s evident that there are also plenty of harmful impacts of direct sunlight such as the risk of developing cataracts and skin cancer, Williams says that young people should still have access to the outdoors on sunny days, with appropriate cautions such as avoiding midday sunlight and using sunscreen. Whether it’s done abroad or at home, Williams believes that spending regular time outdoors is the key to bolstering children’s vision.

The Dutch provider of short breaks, Center Parcs, have fascinated children and challenged parents with their new 50-second commercial. The advert marks the launch of a new campaign entitled ‘The Forest is Your Playground’, which seeks to depict the woodland areas owned by the company as immersive playgrounds that can provide families with hours of imaginative play and subsequent bonding time.

The ad was debuted on the company’s Facebook channel before being brought to television screens around the country. It’s a visual embodiment of their famous slogan, which urges families to take time out from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to ‘get together again’. The slogan was also used in the company’s successful campaign last year, which followed a similar line in its fantastical recounting of a suburban family of bears who rediscover their love of the forest and the freedom that it represents.

Center Parcs have decided to stick with the notion of families letting their imaginations run wild. In the most recent advert, two children and their parents take turns telling stories as they walk through the forest. They conjure up a mischievous robot who they can’t keep up with, a ‘leaf monster’ who must be defeated, and a huge ‘forest whale’ who helps the family to glide to safety on his back.

The detailed characters took the production team a hefty 1,200 hours of animation work to make sure that they fitted naturally in to the forest environment. But such a painstaking process clearly seems to have paid off, as Center Parcs have succeeded in creating a piece of advertising that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Rather than simply talking about their short breaks as a lone product, the company focus on the emotional benefits of what their sites have to offer. The campaign shows how a short break away from the everyday routine can help to bring families together; an experience that is priceless, if a little pricey depending on the time of year!

Viewers are also shown how spending time in the forest is a great way to teach children about the world around them. Embracing imaginative play is an easy and cheap way to entertain children for hours on end. With a little thought, the simple items that surround us can be made in to something really fascinating for children.

Colin Whaley, who is in charge of Marketing and Sales at Center Parcs, spoke about how the team’s research revealed some shocking truths about modern life. It found that parents hardly ever get time to give to children their full, undivided attention, and get on the same level as them. Whaley said “we want to inspire people to carve out family time, not just during the festive period, but in daily life as well. So many of our guests come back time after time and tell us that we are a great place to truly get together and enjoy being a family”.

Another advantage of outdoor play is that it’s a great way to lead a healthy lifestyle. Running around and playing games with children is one of the best ways to exercise and have tons of fun at the same time. This is why, here at Garden Play, we are passionate about outdoor adventure. We hope that more and more families will be inspired to get together and embrace their imaginations in the natural environment.

A growing number of researchers and educators have highlighted the far reaching and lasting benefits of hosting children’s lessons outdoors, away from the traditional classroom setting. Spending time outside has plenty of benefits beyond just recreation. Many experts say that learning outdoors could be a key to happy and healthy children, putting schools and communities at an advantage in the long run.

The term outdoor education covers a whole range of experiences, settings and end goals. Typically, we’d understand this to be something like an overnight camping trip in the countryside or an Outward Bound type trip that consist of children taking part in outdoor adventure activities with their classmates.

However, outdoor education can also include something as simple as leaving the classroom to teach a lesson outside in the school yard or garden. Often these are the most memorable learning experiences for children because the novelty of being somewhere new makes them more inclined to participate actively.

You might be surprised to learn that outdoor education doesn’t always have to be related to nature and involve learning about Biology and environmental sustainability. Even playing outside and using free time to organise games or explore and investigate untamed sections of the playground can allow for learning and development to take place in a completely new way. You can also cover traditional academic topics such as English, Maths and Science, but frame the pupil’s tasks by referencing the world around them.

If children were allowed to spend a few more hours in their week outside of classrooms and living rooms, there could be many noticeable benefits. As well as better health and wellness, they’d enjoy increased environmental stewardship and see a boost in creativity and concentration on the occasions where classroom based learning is necessary. Outdoor games and activities are great team-building experience, encouraging stronger collaboration and relationship skills, which builds self-confidence in children.

Environmental psychologist Louise Chawla found that frequent contact with nature was particularly beneficial for children with ADHD, helping to reduce restlessness and increase their memory. Spending time outdoors is also associated with lower rates of depression in both children and adults.

Other studies have shown that regular outdoor play can help with short sightedness among children as the high light intensity stimulates retina growth. Jessica Parsons of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) has written about how exploring the new sights, sounds and sensations of natural environments broadens children’s perspective beyond their immediate families and schools, helping to make them more rounded human beings.

Another HGSE alum, Ben Wild, dedicated his career to leading teenagers on backpacking trips, helping them to become self-sufficient and mutually reliant as they survived in the wilderness for a week, completely free of modern technology. They began to take more risks and had ample time to set goals and reflect on their journey; skills which benefitted them when they returned to school.

HGSE lecturer Sarah Leibel worked in a summer camp in California that hosted ‘unplugged’ sessions where the campers would spend several weeks without mobile phones. They learned to make the most of free time outdoors and develop stronger conversational and interpersonal skills. Because they had the time to run around engaging in energetic activity, they found it easier to behave calmly during quiet times.

It’s not necessary to travel far for children and teens to benefit from the outdoors. Frequent close-to-home experiences are one of the most successful tools for connecting children to nature. They’ll learn to appreciate all aspects of the world around them, not just breath-taking views seen while camping, but also small things like ants on the playground or a squirrel in the yard. The benefits are out there!

It’s a shocking fact that prison inmates spend more time outdoors than most British children. These are the findings of a government report revealing that three quarters of UK children aged between 5 and12 spend less than one hour playing outdoors. This is less than the allotted yard time for inmates of British prisons.

The report also showed that around a fifth of children never spend active time outdoors.

There are a number reasons why the amount of time spent outside by children has decreased in recent years. Interviews with parents has shown that in general parents feel that children have less opportunities to play outdoors than when they were young. This view is substantiated by the report that has found that about 12% of British children have never been to a park, forest, beach or any form of natural environment.

According to Mark Sears of the Wild Network, obesity and lower mental wellbeing is on the increase as a direct result of children spending too little time playing out doors. Sears said that “we are enclosing our children… stifling their ability to be free”.

It’s widely accepted among experts that spending time outdoors and engaging with nature is essential to a child’s healthy physical and mental development. Amongst other things playing outdoors encourages problem solving among children and stimulates their imagination.

The reasons cited among parents and observers why children are spending less time playing outdoors includes a lack of green spaces, fear, increased technology and a lack of time.

Parents believe that there are not enough parks and open areas for children to play in. This, combined with fears of traffic, accidents and in some areas crime statistics have resulted in parents being less likely to encourage their children to play outdoors or engage with nature.

In recent times it has become popular for children to spend more time playing computer games or spending time on the internet. Ironically many experts believe that it is more dangerous for children on the internet, than it is for them to play outdoors. It’s estimated that on average children spend twice as much time playing on screens than they do playing outdoors.

Modern lifestyles have resulted in parents being too busy with work to spend time with their children. The result is that family outings to parks and natural environments have decreased. Children have increased workloads at school and are spending more time on indoor school activities.

The report has shown that only 8% of children spend time outdoors through school activities. This has prompted environment secretary Liz Truss to introduce an initiative to ensure that every schoolchild has the opportunity to visit a national park. Her view is that “our children should be climbing trees, not walls”.

The plan is to get national park authorities in engage more than 60 000 youngsters. It is expected that the plan should come into effect before 2018.

According to Mark Sears, parents realise the value of children spending time outdoors. The problem is that parents feel they don’t have the adequate tools to implement this.

A report commissioned by Natural England in 2015 has revealed that about 1.3 million children in England have not visited a natural environment in past 12 months – this accounts for about 12% of all the children in England.

The report also emphasises that the amount of children who engage with nature differs according to racial, socio economic and regional criteria.

A hefty 56% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children were less likely to spend time in the outdoors. Conversely, the proportion of children from non-BAME households who frequented natural environments amounted to 74%.

The report also indicates that children from more affluent backgrounds are more likely to spend time in nature – 74% of children from higher income households have visited natural environments over a 12 month period as opposed to 65% of children from lower income households.

Children from the North East and South East of England make up the largest percentage of those who regularly frequent a natural environment (78% and 75% respectively). Children from the West Midlands came in at 65% and London is the lowest at 62%.

An important factor that influences a child’s desire to spend time in nature is that of their parents. In households where parents show a keen interest in nature and encourage their children to do the same, 85% of children follow their parent’s example. While only 39% of children whose parents rarely or never visit natural environments did so themselves.

According to Natalie Johnson of Wild Network there are a variety of reasons why children are not spending enough time outdoors. The postal code of children’s families’ plays significant a role. The Wild Network employee reported that in the country side there’s a genuine fear of busy country roads. Whereas urban children have a growing fear of gangs and don’t want to leave the home. She points the finger at suburban parents for insisting that their children spend more time on indoor activities like ballet, music lessons and the like.

It seems clear that parents should take a more active role in encouraging their children to spend more time outdoors. It has been suggested that when children approach middle school parents become less involved and the school plays a stronger role in the child’s development. The NEC report states that only 8% of children visiting natural environments have done so on school trips.

The majority of children who regularly spend time outdoors do so in city and country parks. This indicates that there is a high demand for these facilities and this should be encouraged. Both parents and society at large would need to take the responsibility of providing these for facilities for the country’s children and encourage children to make use of them. About 70% of English children visit a park or similar facility on a weekly basis. In order to encourage the remaining 30% to do the same, will take a concerted effort from parents and educators to teach children the numerous benefits of an outdoor lifestyle. The good news is that the majority of children of all age groups enjoy spending time in a natural environment.

Since being elected president, Donald Trump seems to be in the media spotlight more than ever. Daily reports of the newly elected president usually seem to be surrounded with much controversy and public debate. It seems that there’s no end to the amount of public attention Trump is receiving.

It has recently come to light that Trump has instructed for play equipment that ex-president Barak Obama had set up in the Whitehouse gardens to be removed. It has been decided to donate the equipment to charity.

In 2009, when his daughters were 9 and 10 years old, Obama had the play equipment installed. They include swings, a fort and a slide. Obama, who also made news headlines around the same time for being the first president to bring dogs into the Whitehouse, is known for promoting family values.

Trump’s youngest son is 10 years old, though it seems that the president doesn’t seem to share same view as his predecessor. Trump’s son and grandchildren will have to amuse themselves with other activities. At least some less privileged children will receive the benefit of the play equipment. Of course this begs the question as to whether the Trump children are in fact privileged.

It seems strange that a father and grandfather to so many young children would deny his relatives the simple joy of garden play. Perhaps children who’ve spent their entire lives in a New York penthouse wouldn’t be able to deal with the shock of playing outdoors. Exposure to fresh air and sunlight may be too much of a shock to their fragile systems.

Another theory might be that as the heirs to a real estate empire, the Trump offspring would be better suited to playing Monopoly. Their skills as property moguls, taking precedence over regular fun. Frivolous and childish activities, like playing in the garden might distract the children and lead them astray – losing sight of their actual purpose in life.

Whatever his reasoning may be, many experts would find such logic to be misguided. Research has proven that children who spend time playing outdoors show better development than those who don’t. Playing outdoors stimulates a child’s development by increasing their problem solving abilities and social skills. The physical health benefits are obvious. Children who play outdoors get healthy exercise – developing muscle growth and combatting obesity.

While the rest of the world is looking at ways to get their children to spend more time playing outdoors, the leader of the richest country on earth is decidedly going in the opposite direction. Many have concluded that aside from his controversial opinions on global political issues, Trump seems to have no notion of what children actually require.

Let’s hope that the Trump children find other ways of enjoying their play time despite this setback and take comfort in the fact that other children will have the chance to use the play equipment that the US president has rejected.