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In a world where more than 65% of children aged between 9 and 11 own a smartphone, traditional outdoor pastimes are facing a dangerous rate of decline. Even those who don’t own a personal smartphone will most likely have access to a similar device, with over half of UK households having a tablet. For those involved in playground design, maintenance or construction, this trend is a problem.
The figures above are daunting when you consider that an increase in smartphone and tablet usage is causing children to be less able to read emotions and be less empathetic than ever. How do we combat this?
Alarmingly, three quarters of UK children now spend less time outdoors than prison inmates – 74% of children spend less than 60 minutes outside a day, whilst prison regulations dictate at least an hour outside per day. A fifth of children don’t play outside at all. This is a dramatic change from children a few generations ago, whose outdoor play habits were the highlight of each day.
And it seems that those outdoor habits were a good idea, and is something we should encourage our children to partake in. Here are just a few of the benefits of outdoor playtime provided by playground specialists Infinite Playgrounds.
Exercise: Children generally benefit from a high metabolic rate, but the growing rate of childhood obesity brought on by a country that readily sells sugary sweets, drinks and fatty foods should concern every parent. 9.1% of children aged 4-5 are obese and another 12.8% overweight. This figure, realistically, should be closer to 0%. Outdoor play encourages exercise, which burns calories and helps keep a child’s cardiovascular system healthy and their weight down.
Vitamin D: Another healthy benefit of outdoor play is exposure to vitamin D. Even in a country with weather as poor as Britain, outdoor exposure can still result in exposure to the vital mineral without having to load them up on sugary orange juice. Vitamin D helps support bone health and blood pressure. It’s also a vitamin that is easier to get from the sun than it is from dietary options – so get your kids outside.
Creates problem-solving, imaginative attitudes: Research from Burdette and Whitaker 2005 indicated that children who played outside had more active imaginations, lower stress levels and play more creatively. These benefits stand separate from the health benefits, meaning children will be both healthier and more imaginative if we encourage more outdoor play.
Social skills: The decline in empathy illustrated at the start of this article is directly linked to the increase in electronic entertainment on offer. Put simply: children are less capable of reading emotions because their habits have changed. Outdoor play is critical in the development of social skills, thanks to cooperative play and the boost in self-confidence that comes with playing outside.
These are just a few of the benefits that come from playing outdoors. As a society, we should be encouraging outdoor play to ensure children get at least 60 minutes per day outside. Encouraging children to make the most of play facilities and the benefits of outdoor socialising will help their development and prevent
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