Whereas in the past is was normal for children to play outside only coming home when their parents called them inside for dinner; today, children are more likely to be found indoors watching TV or playing on their Tablets. Research published in 2016 found that a fifth of children polled did not play outside at all on an average day. As well as this, a government report in the same year found that over 1 in 9 children had not been to a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least a year.
Clearly there is concern about the amount of time children spend active outdoors.
There are many reasons for the lack of time children now spend playing outside. One main reason is the way we live our lives today. In the past, roads and streets were quieter, this meant there were less cars on the road and in typical urban streets the front of the house was an extension of the home. This meant that children from the same street could all play outside together but still within a safe environment and a short distance from their home, plus it was likely that a parent would be around to keep an eye on them. Today, however, roads are busy and cars are faster, meaning that it is not safe for children to play in the street outside their homes. Gardens are a great alternative, however, for many families living in cities, gardens are either too small to provide enough space or they live in flats with no access to a safe outdoor area at all.
In addition to this, technology has given children more reasons to stay indoors than play outside. Watching TV, playing on Tablets, or games that include chat rooms, means that children can be occupied easily indoors and even socialise with their friends without leaving the living room.
While there are many reasons why children are indoors more, this isn’t good for their health, wellbeing or development. Being active outdoors provides children with more space and opportunities for more energetic activities, such as running, jumping and climbing; as well as enabling them to participate in high energy sports such as football, tennis or basketball. This is an ideal way for children to remain fit and stay a healthy weight, as well as great for their health overall. In addition to this, research has shown that being outdoors is great for children’s wellbeing; it helps to make children happier, less stressed and helps children to have a more positive mindset. In addition to this, regular outdoor activity is thought to encourage children’s development, time spent outdoors helps improve creativity, while outdoor games helps children to learn social skills, encourages independence and helps build confidence.
Fortunately, there are some ways to encourage children to play outside more. Having age appropriate playground equipment that encourages children to be active is a great way for schools to enable children to make the best use of their breaks and get much needed outdoor activity. As well as this, out of school time parents can encourage children to be outdoors more by ensuring their gardens are a fun environment in which children can play, as well as regularly finding the time to take children to public parks. Living close to areas with beaches, woodland or other open natural spaces are also great places to take children to help encourage them to be more active outdoors.
The NHS recommended activity levels for children and teenagers:
The NHS recommends that babies are active throughout the day and encouraged to do activities such as reaching and grasping, pulling and pushing, moving their head, body and limbs during daily routines and supervised floor play.
Once children are able to walk on their own the NHS recommends that they are physically active for 180 minutes (3 hours) every day. This can include a mixture of light activity (e.g. standing up, moving around, rolling and playing) and energetic activity (e.g. skipping, hopping, running and jumping).
Children under 5:
The NHS states that children under 5 shouldn’t be inactive for long periods, except when they are asleep.
Children and teenagers aged 5-18
According to the NHS children and teenagers aged 5-18 should do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. It is recommended that this is a mixture of moderate activity (e.g. cycling and playground activities) to vigorous activity (e.g. running and tennis). As well as this, the NHS recommends that for this age group on 3 days a week these activities include strength training (e.g. push-ups) and exercises for strong bones (e.g. jumping and running).