Things aren’t the way they used to be. Children don’t spend as much time outside as they used to when I was a kid, and even less than when my parents were kids. A recent UK study commissioned by the National Trust found that children todayspend half the time playing outside that their parents did – yes the world has changed, but getting children outside is still as important as it has always been.
The research by the National Trust showed that children are playing outside for an average of just over four hours a weekin comparison to the 8.2 hours their parents did when they were children. It showed that overall engagement with outside rural spaces is really low and one of the highest impacting factors on time spent outdoors is… you guessed it, parent’s attitudes to outdoor activity. The other big thing that the National Trust have found is that there are huge health benefits for having a place outside that you love.
Why’s it so good to get kids outside?
Studies show there are real benefits to outdoor play that children could be missing out on if they aren’t encouraged to play outside. It’s not just fresh air and pretty scenery, there are real physical and mental benefits to spending time outside, not to mention just being outside boosts Vitamin D levels. As well as the physical benefits, being outside really boosts mental acuteness by exposing children to situations and complexities they can’t find elsewhere. Having the chance to manipulatereal-world objects and navigate real environments can help develop motor-skills and spatial awareness.
Why are Children Playing Outside Less?
It’s no secret that one of the biggest hitting factors limiting children getting outdoor is technology. It’s so readily available and provides stimulation on a level that have previously been unknown. But it isn’t just that, with child safety hitting the headlines, parents feel more reluctant to encourage their children to explore. Research by the National Children’s Bureau in the UK revealed that nearly 50% of parents let “fear of strangers” prevent them from allowing their children to play outside. Ironically, statistics show that child kidnappings or attacks are definitely not on the rise, but the media spin has created a sense of fear.
How can we Make the Outdoors Fun Again
Besides taking a hammer to anything that requires charging (which would be expensive and potentially counter-productive) there are a few things you can do to get your kids outside this summer.
Model – model how to enjoy being outdoors. Parents have a huge impact on how their children perceive the world. Yes, it may be difficult to get you child away from a screen, but the more enthusiasm you have for doing something, the more likely it is they will be positive about it.
Research – there’s tonnes of stuff to do in England in the summer and a lot of it is right on your doorstep. Parks, splash pads, forests, reserves, farms. Yes, some of those things cost money, but at the same time, the bang for your buck is pretty good most of the time, especially when you factor in the good it’s doing.
Relax – allowing you child to explore things for themselves is key to them enjoying the outdoors. It can be counter intuitive sometimes, but as long as they’re safe, let them go wild. A bit of mud never hurt anyone and it’s way more likely that they’ll want to be outside more if they feel free.
Choices – now I’m not preaching here, but as parents we need to make good choices for our kids. Sometimes it means more hard work (and when you’re sleep deprived and stressed that doesn’t sound appealing) but in the long run, it’s our responsibility to help them discover the joys of the world they may be missing out on.
In 20 years time, they won’t be reminiscing about the hours they spent on the PlayStation, they’ll remember all of the adventures you took them on outside. If that’s not encouragement enough, I don’t know what is.