I was lucky as a child I got to spend as much time out of doors as I wanted. I could roam through fields, play down at the stream. There was noting to stop me and only the wonder of nature to guide me. In recent months, there has been an increasing amount of research published that is showing worrying trends on the amount of time children are spending out of doors. In a recent Guardian newspaper article, it was reported that children are spending less time outside than prisoners:
“The new survey questioned a nationally representative sample of 2,000 parents of 5-12 year olds and found 74% of children spent less than 60 minutes playing outside each day. UN guidelines for prisoners require ‘at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily‘”.
What is more the research has shown 18% of children spent no time outdoors on an average day!
So in 2016, what stops children getting outside? An article in the British newspaper The Express reports on the reasons parents give for not allowing their children outdoors, including the weather, lack of time and the fact that the children just wanted to stay inside. From my perspective as a parent I know that each of these are valid points. It rains a lot in Ireland, but we have have waterproof coats and trousers and have been known to go for walks in the rain.Often my children won’t go out unless there is an adult that will go out with them, so I need to make time. But the thing is once the children are out there they just need to know I am near, they don’t need me to play with them, I can be getting on with some gardening while they are taking their imaginary dogs for a walk (that was what they were doing today!). And yes, children like nothing better than sitting on the sofa having screen time, but what is that doing for them? So we try and just have half an hour screen time a day. It doesn’t always work, but most of the time it does.
According to the Huffington Post, who were reporting on a study commissioned by UK’s Eco Attractions Group, there are children who have never had a picnic in their back garden, never built a sandcastle or jumped in a muddy puddle. I would say that these are activities that should not only be enjoyed by every child but also by every adult. So as a parent or guardian of a child, why not get out there with your kids. Have a picnic, go for a walk, buy some Wellington boots and a raincoat and have some fun in the rain.
Research shows that outdoor play is essential for childrens’ development and it makes them happier and calmer. Being outside helps children learn to explore, it allows them to use their imagination without the aid of modern electronic gadgets. As parents it is time we allowed our children to get muddy, let them make mud piles, let them get their hands dirty, let them feel the soil and grass on their hands, and even let them climb a tree – all this connects them with nature. Who cares if they get dirty – that is why we have baths and washing machines!
The Wild Network – This is a network of people and organisations with a collective vision to re-wild childhood, increase time outside and help children thrive in the 21st century.
Last Child in the Wood a book by Richard Louv
Dirt is Good a campaign by Persil to get more kids outdoors