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.