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Why don’t children play outside anymore? Like we used to do?

There has been extensive research into the benefits of outdoor play, still it’s a fact children are increasingly living a sedentary lifestyle.

Research shows this is down to a number of issues:

  • More focus on measurable activities
  • Fear culture. Fear of injury, abduction and illness.
  • Technology

One great research paper is “The importance of outdoor play for young children’s healthy development” by Gabriela Bento and Gisela Dias.


1 Emphasis on Measurable Activities

Play outside freely rather than organised as shown in this image where kids play football

Organised activities have taken over free play


With measurable activities it is easy to see what has been learned or achieved. Though free unstructured play is highly beneficial for a child, it is not measurable. It is hard to say what a child has actually been doing other than ‘playing’. I suppose it’s part of our ‘tick box’ attitude to life.

2 Fear culture. Fear of injury, abduction and illness.

bicycle in road Fear of abduction play outside

Is the fear of abduction a good enough reason not to let children play outside?


The fear of injury is very noticeable in the health and safety culture we now live in.

“A climbing frame can be assessed, a tree can not.”

Abduction has more coverage in the media though numbers show no increased risk. Still many parent will tell you this is their worst nightmare.

And be honest, the story of an abducted child will stay with you for ever. I am sure you can name 2 or 3 children of by heart.

Children getting wet and dirty due to outside play was once upon a time part of childhood. Now many schools don’t let children out in the rain¬† and us parents often keep the children in when it is raining or muddy outside too.

The old ‘You will get a cold’ is still used as much as 40 years ago.


3 Technology

No time to play outside - Technology has taken over

No time to play outside – Technology has taken over

Be honest, doesn’t it make your life so much easier when the kids are on a screen?

Whether they are watching television, are playing on a DS or Wii, or are simply tapping away on a tablet, they are occupied and in one place. Which means you can get on with things too.

Many children are now addicted to games. And however much adverts and apps will tell you how educational their product is, in reality it does not help your child’s development at all.

So what is the solution? How do we get our children to play outside again?

I think as parents we really have to look at ourselves here.

Do we really need to compare our child to the next? Is it fair to ‘create’ a child’s world with a list of tick boxes? Is a ballet class or a football lesson worth more than climbing trees and exploring nature?

Children will ‘unlearn’ free play when exposed to measurable and organised activities only. It will take time for them to develop curiosity and creativity again.

It is not impossible but definitely necessary.

The swallows and amazon image seems to be  from many lifetimes ago. Maybe from a imaginary world.


Play outside like in swallows and amazons

Is Swallows and Amazons just an imaginary world?


Is the world really that much more dangerous than 30 years ago? Is it because we live in cities and there are more cars?

Or are we as parents just more anxious?

I sure do feel a very heavy responsibility on my shoulders. The “What if something happens to them” does come up in my mind a little too often! Though is it fair to transfer my fears to my children?

If fear of abduction is an issue, surely we can still take the children out to the woods, meadows, beaches and fields on a regular basis?

To play outside will do the children as good as it will do ourselves.

Outside play will give your child’s immunity a boost. The children are also exposed to more sunlight and fresh air which are both super important for your child’s well being.

What do you think?

Let me know on FB or Twitter! (Or leave a comment below)

I would love to hear from you!

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