Why Children Need To Play Outside

22/04/2015 11:17 | Updated 22 June 2015
  • Kate Hilpern Parentdish UK

Little girl, three years, climbing a tree

Many children have never experienced traditional childhood activities like making daisy-chains, building sandcastles or playing in a forest.

Despite the popularity of Peppa Pig, over a third (35) haven't stomped through squelchy mud, according to a new study of 2,000 parents commissioned by the Eco Attractions Group.

Just half of youngsters have built sandcastles at the beach, with a similar number saying they've never had a picnic outside of their own back garden. Just 44 of kids choose to watch TV or play on their computer alone over playing outdoors, we may be producing a very unsociable, unimaginative and inactive generation, warn experts.

The outdoors is also the best place for kids to practice and master physical skills, build up their immune systems and practise problem solving skills. Indeed, whether they're trying to figure out the best way to build a fort or learning how to get along with friends, children who play outside learn how to solve real life problems.

Studies show that children who play outside develop better language skills, are fitter and have fewer behavioural problems too. In fact, research shows that children use five times as many words when they play outdoors compared to indoors, and that there's a direct correlation between obesity and lack of time spent outside.

Traditional outdoor pursuits also teach kids about respecting and enjoying nature and animals. Yet according to the research, just four in ten children have planted their own seeds to grow plants or flowers from scratch, while just over a third have helped to grow fruit and vegetables. Animal spotting is also becoming less popular, with two thirds of children saying they have never looked for birds and just 35 claim to have never made a daisy chain and seven in 10 never go blackberry picking.

But whilst the study found that parents worry about the consequences of their offspring's lack of time outdoors, a staggering eight in 10 mums and dads admit they probably need to make more effort, or find more time, to play with their children outdoors.

Tony Jones, from Eco Attractions Group, believes there's no better time to take action. "The Easter holidays are just around the corner and we encourage all parents to try and get their kids closer to nature."

Try visiting an attraction that's near you, whether it's a local park, farm or play area – many of which will have special Easter activities for the kids, he advises.

Although the research found that a quarter of parents say they don't live near a green space or somewhere with outdoor activities for their children, Jones insists they are mistaken. "It's easy to assume that if you live in an urban area, there is nowhere close by, but many of these places are actually in cities so are easily accessible."

Even small green areas offer a wealth of opportunities for children to enjoy nature, he says.

Play England - an organisation that focuses on giving children access to free play areas - believes that kids should be outside playing for a good proportion of the day, but their own research found that parents think taking their kids to the park is something you do as a treat instead of something you do every day.

"Playing out should be an everyday experience for all children," says programme development manager, Steven Chown. "Given the opportunity, children today will do exactly the same things we did when we did when we were children - make dens, climb trees and splash in puddles.'

Top tips for getting kids to enjoy the great outdoors

Add focus – children love a mission, so try spotting plants and animals on your walk or do a treasure hunt to add some purpose to your walk.

Don't rush - take the time to dawdle, jump in puddles and notice the signs of the seasons together and you're guaranteed to build some memories that will last a lifetime.

Camp out – if you have a back garden, or a friend with one, why not camp out with your children? Or, if they're older, let them do it alone?

Enjoy simple pleasures – many of the greatest pleasures are very simple, such as skimming stones, making daisy chains or blowing a grass whistle.

Be nature detectives – a nature scavenger hunt is a great way to explore your back garden, neighbourhood or any green space. A bug hunt can work well too.

Get crafty – children are natural collectors, so encourage them to collect everything from pine cones to leaves for a home craft project.