Parents, teachers and children have all changed their attitudes towards the outdoors. During the 1970s to the late 1990s, to be sent to the bedroom for a child would be considered a punishment as they wouldn’t be able to play outside; now, the bedroom is no longer considered a punishment.
Now, their bedrooms are home to alternative realities, brought about by digital platforms such as social media, games consoles and smart devices. They are distracted from the world outside their window.
Outdoor playground equipment designers Infinite Playgrounds explores how modern technology is limiting children’s outdoors experience and development.
Children at home
Despite the rise of the internet and smart devices, children still watch over 17 hours of television each week — or two and a half hours a day. As well as this, children are also spending more than 20 hours a week online -mostly spent on social media apps and websites.
This digital exposure is impacting how children view nature and the outdoors. A screen-based lifestyle is considered by many as one of the main reasons why more children are choosing to stay indoors, instead of going outside. However, some also believe that although smart technologies can be educational, it is the well-meaning sensibility of parents that are limiting children when it comes outdoor play.
As we become more cautious in light of growing threats, children are playing in a smaller radius around their home than ever before. Since the 1970s, this area has shrunk by almost 90%.
Just 10% of children walk to school nowadays, compared to 80% in 1981. Most children are nowaccompanied by their parent or guardian during their walk. If this is the case when walking to school, then the chances of a child roaming freely in natural settings with their friends is slim. No one is at fault in this scenario, parents simply want their children to remain safe; however, an almost overprotective approach can compromise a child’s mental and physical health.
Playing outdoors helps keep children active, fit and healthy. This is because outdoor play is associated with an active lifestyle, whereas inactive lifestyles are associated to those who remainrelatively immobile indoors.
The drop in outdoor play has had a significant impact on a child’s physical health and well-being. Around three in ten children in England that are aged between 2 and 15 are considered overweight or obese. If these current trends continue, then by 2050 more than half of all adults, and a quarter of all children, will be obese.
Mental health problems in children have increased. The Good Childhood Inquiry found that between 1974 and 1999, the number of children suffering from emotional and behavioural problems increased drastically. Now, one in ten children between the ages of 5 and 16 have a mental health disorder that has been clinically diagnosed.
A child’s submersion in cities and built-up areas has altered their minds. As well as mental health problems, a lack of engagement with the natural world has meant that many children can’t learn the resilience and natural problem-solving skills that come with being outdoors and fending for yourself.
The benefits the great outdoors can bring to playtime
Generally, if a child gets enough exercise, they will continue this trend into adulthood. If a modern society is to stay healthy throughout their lifespan, children should be looking to play outdoors to make exercise a part of their everyday lives from an early age.
The outdoors supports imaginative play. By going beyond the boundaries, children can open themselves up to new experiences and sensations that they may not have otherwise experienced. Our natural world is highly complex, with an abundance of shapes, textures and spaces for children to explore, discover and hide within.
It’s clear that outdoor play is key to a child’s physical and mental health. Letting go of the smart device and getting children outside to explore the great outdoors might just be the making of them.