Why children need to play outdoors

“Fewer than a quarter of children regularly use their local ‘patch of nature’, compared to over half of all adults when they were children. And fewer than on in ten children regularly play in wild places; compared to almost half a generation ago.” (Moss, 2012)

Think about how you used to play outside as a child. Did you run in from school, throw your bag on the floor and run straight back out again? Where did you go? What games did you play? How long were you out for and how did it make you feel?

Statistics show that there are no more child abductions today than there were 30 years ago and road accidents have actually reduced by 74% (Department of Transport). Yet, because of parents’ worries about increased traffic and a fear of strangers, fewer children are playing outside freely these days. Combine this with the growth in electronic addictions (mobile phones, tablets, computer games) and it’s easy to see why children are playing outside less and less.

Ironically, children are at risk from not playing outside. In his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’, Richard Louv, coins the phrase ‘Nature Deficit Disorder to describe the impact that a lack of outdoor play is having on children (and adults). Nature Deficit Disorder is real and it’s having a huge impact on our children’s health and well-being.

Risks from not playing outside

Impact on Physical Health

• The lack of outdoor play and increase in ‘sedentary’ indoor activities is having an impact in physical health. Around one in ten children in England aged between two and 15 are either over weight or obese.

• There has also been an increase in reported cases of Vitamin D deficiency, leading to a major rise in the childhood disease rickets. Vitamin D largely comes from exposing the skin to sunlight and it is essential for the formation of strong, healthy bones.

• The increase in children that are short-sighted has been attributed to children not playing outside and spending too much time on screens. Being exposed to better light levels outdoors and being given more opportunities to look in to the distance, are believed to be important in preventing short-sightedness.

• There has been a major decline in the last decade in children’s cardio respiratory (heart and lungs) fitness and an increase in asthma.

Impact on Mental Health

• Professor Tanya Byron has noted, “The less children play outdoors, the less they learn to cope with the risks and challenges they will go on to face as adults…Nothing can replace what children gain from the freedom and independence of thought they have when they are trying new things out in the open”. Mental health is a hot topic at the moment. One in ten children aged between five and 16 have a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder, one in 12 adolescents are self-harming and, about 35,000 children in England are being prescribed anti-depressants (Moss, 2012). Giving children the freedom to play outdoors and take risks is known to have a huge positive impact on children’s mental health and resilience.