THE BLOG

Let the Children Play! - Why Children Should Be Playing Outside This Winter

31/10/2014 10:46 GMT | Updated 31/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The millennials generation are the first to grow up with computer technology at their fingertips. The growth of technology within the home has increased massively in the last 20 years. According to the 'Digital Predictions 2014' from Deloitte, the spend on computer devices per year has increased five-fold since 1999, rising from $150 billion to a little shy of $800 billion. As stated in a study from charity the National Literacy Trust, the mass spending on these devices culminates in three-quarters of children (72.9%) having access to a touch-screen device at home.

Now that most children have access to laptops, tablet computers, mobile phones, computer games, and a number of other 'distractions', the challenge for parents is in keeping their children active. It has been found that children spend an average of 5 ½ hours a day in front of a computer or TV screen. Take away time spent at school and this figure takes up the rest of the child's day, leaving no time for active play. But is it really as disruptive to children as we think?

Why are fewer children playing outside?

There are arguments that in some cases it is not necessarily the children who are choosing to stay indoors. It is natural for parents to be cautious when it comes to the safety of their children which, if nowhere safe to play is nearby, will unfortunately limit the opportunities for parents to allow children to carry out their own activities. In a survey carried out by the charity Fair Play for Children, asking 300 councils in England about the number of playgrounds provided, it was revealed that there was one park for every 694 children. Jan Cosgrove, National Secretary for Fair Play for Children, sees the number of cars on the streets as the main cause of the reduction in suitable play areas. He calls it a "catastrophic loss of safe play space" due to the "privatisation of the residential street by the car owner".

Generational differences are clear to see between the amount of time spent outside when comparing adults and children. Research by UK charity Play England has found that while 72% of adults preferred playing outside when they were younger, only 40% of today's children would choose outdoor play over time spent in front of the TV or computer.

Personally I believe that technology isn't the problem, the problems is that as parents, we are failing to manage our children's recreational time effectively. Parents nowadays are busier than ever before and finding that extra time to deal with and plan children's playtime is becoming increasingly difficult.

Why playing outside is good for children

Inactivity is never good for a child's development. It plays a crucial part in not only keeping them fit and healthy, but is beneficial for their cognitive and social growth. Play can be categorised into two forms, structured and unstructured. A study conducted by Josie Gleave and Issy Hamilton found that over time unstructured, self-directed play has become replaced by more structured and educational activities organised by adults. It was found that while structured activities, such as educational play and organised sports, are important for ensuring a child's academic achievement; there should be time for children to play for the sake of the enjoyment of play itself.

Research conducted by Roger L. Mackett and James Paskins for the paper 'Children's Physical Activity: The Contribuion of Playing and Walking' found that unstructured play is actually much healthier for children as "children who are allowed to leave the house without adult supervision are more active and enjoy a richer social life than those who are constantly supervised". As Jan Cosgrove put it "kids are so much healthier and better adjusted when they have unstructured play".

As a parent myself, I believe that sometimes the problem lies in a lack of accessible information being given to parents. If it was known what was space and activities were available in their local area where children could play, unstructured or not, there might be a better chance of children being dragged away from their screens.

Examples of things to do this Winter

Some might think that because the shorter winter days are drawing in, the opportunities aren't there for kids to get outside and be active. However, while it's true that they might not be able to be out at the park till late unsupervised, there are still a whole host of activities and places children can be taken during the winter. Here are some ideas...

Ice rink / Snow slopes - If you're feeling particularly active then local snow slopes and ice rinks are a great place to get kids active during the winter. Snow slopes offer the chance for tobogganing, skiing or snowboarding, whereas ice rinks give the kids a chance to get a pair of ice skates on.

Stargazing - Stargazing can be a great way to get your kids outdoors and learning. If you're not totally clued up on your night skies there are plenty of family guides out there, such as the 'Family Guide to Star Gazing', that will help you to tell your stars from your planets, and even talk you through the constellations you can spot with the kids.

The Woodland Trust - The UK has a woodland that can be dated back thousands of years, all of which can be explored as a family at the various Woodland Trust sites. The woodland provides a great natural habitat to take kids on nature walks and provide historical legend and myth. You can even tread in Robin Hoods footsteps at Sherwood Forest. Find the nearest Woodland Trust Site on their website: WoodlandTrust.org.uk

The National Trust - There are loads of activities organised by the National Trusts at their sites across the UK including treasure hunts, nature trails, or even horse rides. If you wanted to tread your own path the sites are open for visiting for family walks or bike rides.

'You're never more than 40 minutes away from a National Trust site'. You can find you're closest attractions using the National Trust location map.

Local radio stations and Facebook groups are the perfect places to find inspiration for outdoor activities and free events.

"20% of children overweight by the time they start school" - a shocking statistic that shows that the future generations health will be affected by parents inability to get their children away from technology and out into the great outdoors for fun and exercise.

In the words of Bob Marley 'Let's get together and feel all right'!