An hour a day – do you get yours?
Current government recommendations are that children are physically active for at least 60 minutes a day. But a 2016 survey found that three quarters of children from the 2000 families polled played outside for less than this. This is less outdoor time than the average high security prisoner.
Curriculum pressures, along with after-school clubs and activities, mean that time for ‘just playing’ is often squeezed out of children’s days. Time to be outdoors with no specific goal in mind, just seeing where imaginations go is hugely beneficial to both development and wellbeing.
This is not to say that structured activities, hobbies, TV or tablets are negative or harmful. On the contrary, they are enjoyable and help develop focus, social skills or teamwork. But these activities need to be balanced with time for open-ended, free play for children to develop optimally and simply have fun.
Ken Robinson, a renowned educationalist puts it this way:
“Play is a highly beneficial and deeply natural way in which kids learn… it has deeply important roles in the development of intellectual skills, in social skills, in developing empathy, in stretching our imaginations and exploring our creativity.”
Unstructured outdoors play offers children the chance to:
- Be creative. When there are no designated rules for an activity, children come up with them by themselves. A tree stump can become a base for robbers, a café, or a space station.
- Problem-solve. Having a go, seeing what happens, making adjustments and trying again are natural themes of outdoor play, whether kids are constructing a leaf and twig boat to float in a stream, climbing a tree or building a den.
- Get active. Outdoors play can involve quiet sitting and reflection, but it also offers lots of time for exploring, racing around, climbing and stretching.
So how to get the magic sixty minutes into daily life? There are often opportunities for outdoor play in schools and nurseries, but you might also want to think about building this time in after school and at the weekends, rather than heading straight to the sofa.
Play England’s campaigns focus on offering more time and spaces for children to play. They encourage people to take advantage of local parks and green spaces and to play out in the streets, just as children have done in past decades. Their tips include:
- Getting together with other local families to supervise safe street play
- Campaigning for a local green space, if you don’t have one nearby
- Heading to the park after school, or joining friends in a garden, rather than going straight home
- Staying out of the play, so the children negotiate and create their own play ‘rules’ but being on hand to ensure everyone is safe and happy.
So if in doubt, or you need to unwind, just get outside and play! We hope that’s got you restless to go outside and have some fun!