Our three boys love being outside. I’m regularly having to run into the garden, and drag Benjamin in at 7am, when he’s escaped through the cat flap into the garden whilst stark naked. They are all at their happiest when they are out in the garden, getting some fresh air and burning off some energy. On days like today, when it has just been raining too hard for them to play outside, they are miserable and moping about by the patio door. At the very first break in the rain, they’ll be outside, with their wellies and raincoats on.
I was really shocked to read some research last week from Sudocrem, which showed that in a survey of 2000 parents, 62% believe that parents of this generation are more overprotective than those previously. Over the past four decades, the amount of time that children spend playing outdoors has declined drastically. Children of today typically spend less than five hours a week (45 minutes a day!) playing outside, compared to the 11 hours per week for their parent’s generation. Even more shocking is the fact that they are spending around 6.5 hours a day in front of a screen. It’s no wonder that childhood obesity rates have been increasing!
I’m far from an outdoorsy type person, but some of my favourite childhood memories stem from being outside. It might have been playing in the back garden, or in our little cul-de-sac on our bikes, having water fights with the neighbour’s kids or kicking a ball around, or even just going to the local park. I really hope that when Harrison, Alex and Benjamin are older, they remember the days we spent going for a walk, playing and exploring in the forest, going to the seaside or even just chasing each other around in the back garden. They usually come in just before bedtime, absolutely filthy and their legs bruised and scraped – nothing that an ‘oh dear’, a magic kiss and a plaster can’t sort out. Children getting injured was cited by 35% of parents as a reason for not letting children playing outside. They believe that it was much less of an issue for a child to hurt themselves whilst playing outdoors when they were young than it is now. I don’t really understand that reasoning to be honest – children will bump themselves, it’s a fact of life!
57% of adults also believe that it was safer to play outdoors when they were younger. I can see this to an extent – my kids probably won’t play out the front on their bikes in the way we used to as kids. That doesn’t stop them from going out in the back garden if you have one, or playing in the park or the woods supervised. I live in the middle of Birmingham and can get to a wood in about 45 minutes in a car, and pretty much everyone has a park within walking distance.
Play More is a new campaign which is supported by Sudocrem in an aim to get people to recognise the importance of outdoor play for preschool children. They’re offering the chance for ten nurseries across the country to win either £500 to renovate their outdoor play area, or £500 of Play More equipment.
One nursery that has supported outdoor play since the early 20th century times is Rachel McMillan Nursery School in Greenwich, London. Established over 100 years ago, it was the country’s first ‘open air’ nursery. This ethos continues today, no matter the weather.
“We’ve known for more than a century that letting children learn through playing outdoors feeds their imaginations and stimulates mental and physical development”, says Theresa Lane, Headteacher of Rachel McMillan Nursery School, consistently rated Outstanding by Ofted, “I’m happy to support any campaign that encourages children to spend more time outside exploring and understanding their environment, whether that’s a city centre or a muddy field.”