Children Need More Time Outdoors, UK Advocates Say

(Photo: Cade Martin, Dawn Arlotta, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Cade Martin, Dawn Arlotta, Creative Commons)

Sir Ken Robinson, chairperson of the “Dirt is Good” Child Development Advisory Board sponsored by Persil, a leading laundry detergent originally manufactured in Germany, says children are not playing outside enough. Robinson writes that as the Easter holidays approach, parents need to use this free time to encourage their children’s social skills and creativity by spending time outdoors.

In fact, Robinson says, academic research has found that outside activities were a natural and important way for children to learn. Playing outdoors is essential for young ones’ healthy physical development, especially during the periods when their brains are developing rapidly.

When a child is given the opportunity to spend time playing freely outside, parents will be astonished by what their children can accomplish, says Robinson. Social skills are improved, imaginations are broadened, concentration is enhanced, and the youngsters will become more self-reliant.

But currently, play is often overlooked and considered non-essential or trivial. Because of this, there is a tendency to reduce the time for active play in kids’ schedules when at home or in school.

Recent research in the form of a study entitled “Play in Balance” has found that almost two-thirds of parents in the UK acknowledge that their children have fewer play breaks than they did when they were young. One-third of British children spent 30 minutes or less playing outside on an average day. Eighteen percent of kids did not play outside at all on an average day. Three- quarters of UK children are more interested in playing virtual games than being involved in real sports.

And to make matters worse, many parents feel they do not have the time necessary to supervise their children’s outdoor play due to their own overloaded schedules. Also, since seven out of 10 kids in the world today live in cities, UK parents often do not have access to a park, public spaces, or a playground.

That is why parents should consider using weekends and holidays to head to the beach or the country for fresh air and the exhilarating effects of being in nature, advocates say, pointing out that no money needs to be spent to get plenty of physical and mental renewal.

In Britain, the Dirt is Good campaign and other organizations such as The Wild Network dole out information solely aimed at getting children back in touch with nature. Robinson adds that schools need to get on board as well. One example of an activity that schools could sponsor is an “Empty Classroom Day” on which children across the globe are allowed to enjoy learning outside the classroom. This year the special day will be June 17th.

In a new Persil ad, the message is that children spend less time outdoors than prisoners in maximum-security prisons, according to Louise Jack writing for Fast Company’s Co-Create.

Unilever, one of the manufacturers of Persil, commissioned a global study of 12,000 parents. It found that mothers and fathers understand the importance of play, but lack of time, few safe places to use, and over-scheduling all limit the time that kids should be using to play.

“We are intentionally highlighting the statistic that we have found: that prison inmates, the people with the least freedom in the world, spend more time outside than children spend outside playing today,” says the brand’s global equity director, James Hayhurst.

Mariana Cerqueira reports for the UK’s Good to Know that the unpredictable weather in Britain plays a large part in keeping kids indoors, but children are also staying inside because of technology. About 77% of parents said their youngsters often refuse to go outside without taking a technological device along with them.