Summer Holidays: Why Outdoor Play Really Matters

13/07/2017 11:48 BST | Updated 13/07/2017 11:48 BST

The Summer holidays are here! I remember mine with great fondness; six weeks off, feeling like it would last forever, big plans, staying up way beyond bed time, and having the time you never realized you wouldn't get again. Ah the power of youth.

For parents though, the summer holidays aren't quite all sweetness and delight. Parents, particularly those with younger children, need to get their juggling balls out once again to balance that work and family time. If you're in a position where your usual childcare is also on a break, then those balls seem to spin even faster!

Under that kind of pressure, it would be easy to just let the kids get in front of the TV more, play more online games, and create all kinds of distraction. But recent research has revealed why, this summer, we need to take a stand.

Screen Time has taken over

Recent research has revealed that children up to the age of 11 in the UK are spending, in an average week, 45 hours in front of a screen, and only five hours playing outside.

That is in itself a shocking statistic, but when we consider what effects that's having on our children, it makes the statistic even more important to correct.

In a study for the Early-Years group, research shows how outdoor play is essential for large muscle development - so the way our children learn to walk forwards, run, climb, pivot, jump, balance etc are all fundamentally learned through more outdoor play. It's this sense of body management that's essential.

Outdoor play is also a vital component of gross motor skills - which we develop into fine motor skills, like learning how to use a knife and fork, holding a pencil, and writing for instance.

Conquering parents' fear.

The results of the research also revealed that over half of the children themselves (52%) revealed that they themselves wanted to play outdoor a lot more - but it was their parents that weren't letting them.

Going further, the results showed that:

- 57% of parents think playing outside today is not as safe as it was during their own childhoods

- 62% of respondents feel they are more protective of their children than previous generations

A lot of what we see and hear in the mass media these days can be scary, and it constantly feels like we're being told not to let our children out of our sight for even a minute. Those fears aren't necessarily misguided, but they also shouldn't stop us from the sort of active play that's vital for them in their development and also us, in our bonding times.

Simple steps and great bonding

Children's artist Joy Pirkle has been working with a number of children to get them expressing their creative side outdoors, and she recently spoke of finding the magic again in everyday things that make outdoor play possible, including:

Hide and seek: sometimes the old ones really are the best. Your children hide, you seek, everyone has lots of fun. Best of all, you can do it in a park, playground, or pretty much anywhere.

Playground assault course: if the kids are bored with the playground equipment, turn it into an assault course by timing them to complete a circuit, taking in every ride, roundabout and climbing fame. Use the stop watch on your phone or the second hand on your watch. They'll love testing themselves and finding ways to beat their bests.

Planting seeds: if you have a garden of any size, why not give the children a small patch to call their own? Let them pick the flowers (or vegetables) they want to plant and nurture, and leave them to look after their own special space. Why? Well, it promotes an appreciation of the natural world, gets everyone outside, and gets children bending, stretching and digging.

With parks all around us, as well as other creative outdoor spaces, we need to ensure we're not confining our children to a life of increasing digital reliance.

This summer, make it about the outdoors. It really matters.