Children want to play outside more, but many dads and mums are not comfortable letting their children loose in the local playground or park.
At least that is the conclusion of research commissioned by Sudocrem, published alongside the launch of the DaddiLife Play More Month. The survey found that 57% of parents think playing outside today is not as safe as it was during their own childhoods.
Those fears mean that 62% of respondents feel they are more protective of their children than previous generations. Parents today are more cautious than ever about letting their children play outside.
Priorities inside out
And yet there is clearly a pressing need to get more children in our parks and playgrounds more often.
The results of that imbalance are everywhere. Less outside play means less opportunities to burn off energy. Is it any surprise that the number of obese children has more than tripled in the UK in the last 25 years?
Joy Pirkle is a children’s artist who has worked with Sudocrem to produce artworks that promote outdoor play and healthier life choices. She believes the increasingly sedentary lives we all lead has robbed many parents of the confidence to encourage outdoor play in children, who in turn are easily seduced by the lure of the screen.
“Modern children have the double-edged sword of technology that is ever present in their lives,” she says.
“Children of a different era probably had fewer alternatives to playing outside than today. But the iPad and games consoles are often used as babysitters in a parent’s busy life, and their fears about the safety of their children can be an understandable reason to favour indoor play. I think, in general, we have all become more sedentary. Maybe all the pressures of working lives are now leaving less energy for outdoor activities.”
Our increasingly sedentary and indoor lifestyles leave a dangerous legacy for our children, who happily mimic adult behaviour. The more time they spend on screens, the less they want to move. The more time they spend sitting down, the more health problems they store for the future.
Outside play a key to health
On the other hand, if we promote outside play to children as something healthy, happy and fun, we help to plant the seeds of healthy habits that can last a lifetime.
And the benefits of playing outside are difficult to overstate.
“The beauty of outdoor play is that it has incredible benefits for all areas of a child’s life, as well as for the health and wellbeing of their family,” says Joy.
“Setting aside a regular time for family play outside brings obvious physical fitness gains and also provides a huge boost to mood and mental health. Bonding play with no distractions, learning the life skills of sharing and team spirit – not to mention getting a good dose of vitamin D – are things every parent would want for their children. And most of all, playing outside is FUN!”
But all that begs a fundamental question. How do we fit more outside play into the busy lives of ourselves and our children, and overcome the anxieties around outdoor play that too often hold us back?
Joy Pirkle has been working with Sudocrem to paint play-based murals at children’s nurseries to promote healthier life choices. She believes that art can help cut through negative attitudes and act as the starting point for a discussion on the benefits of outdoor play.
“I have worked on many art projects involving children’s welfare, and I have found art to be the most immediate and inclusive way to engage with children of all ages,” she says.
“Having freedom to express themselves, without the usual constraints of other forms of learning, can make encouraging play for children effortless and joyful.
“The most wonderful thing about this work is that during the days, or sometimes weeks, that each project takes, I am in the very privileged position of building a real relationship with the children and their parents which gets the conversation about health and play started.”
Dads lead by example
Art is clearly one way to stimulate a love of the outdoors, but perhaps the most positive thing parents can do is lead by example. Talk positively about the outside world, walk modest distances rather than getting in the car, and make regular trips to the park, playground or countryside part of a regular routine of fun family activities.
Dads have a major role play to in this respect. Research in 2014 found that children tend to prefer playing games with their dads. Meanwhile, a 2015 study found that dads tend to favour outdoor play over indoor activities. Dads enjoy taking their children outside to play, if they can find the time to do it and have safe facilities nearby to make it carefree and fun.
And as Joy says, any outdoor activity is good, if it is a regular event and everyone enjoys it.
“Something as simple as a family walk – maybe taking along a travelling “I Spy” game, for example – is free, can happen whatever the weather and is an opportunity to learn and talk to each other. I believe that fitness and good health is available to us all, but parents need to set the example.”
Five easy outdoor play activities to do with kids
You can do it in the garden, in the park, or on the drive. All you need is a skipping rope and the will. Skipping is lots of fun, burns loads of calories (up to 600 an hour) and improves coordination. Children love it. Skipping with dad could become a weekly treat for kids and adults alike.
Joy’s suggestion to go out on family walks is a good one, but if you fear your children will spend the entire time moaning about being bored, simply replace the word ‘walking’ with the word ‘geocaching’. Geocaching is walking with a purpose, and the purpose is to use the GPS on your smartphone to find hidden treasure (of the fun kind). The combination of exercise, adventure and gadgetry make these walks – available across the country – a delight.
Hide and seek
Sometimes the old ones really are the best. Your children hide, you seek, everyone runs around and has lots of fun. Best of all, you can do it in a park, playground, wood 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 full 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 personal bests.
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.
What will you be doing during Play More Month? Any tips to get the kids outside and having fun? Let us know using #PlayMoreMonth