Attitudes towards nature and the outdoors have changed over the past few decades, with this the case for parents, children and teachers alike. During the 1970s to the late 1990s, to be sent to the bedroom for a child would be considered a punishment as they wouldn’t be able to play outside; now, the bedroom is no longer considered a punishment.
This is because kids can now delve into an alternative reality when in their bedroom, thanks to the advancements of game consoles, smart devices and social media platforms. This is distracting them from what’s going on outside of their window though, as natural outdoor playground equipment designer, Infinite Playgrounds, has found when exploring how and why a child’s experience has been limited when it comes to the outdoors in the modern age:
A look at the 21st century home
Children across Britain watch over 17 hours of television a week — close to two and a half hours a day — despite the fact that the internet and smart devices have transformed how youngsters learn, play and communicate. As well as this, children are also spending more than 20 hours a week online — mostly spent on social media apps and websites.
When these are set up and are accessible in a child’s bedroom, it stands to reason that they have a knock-on effect about how a youngster views nature and the outdoors. A screen-based lifestyle is considered by many as one of the main reasons why more children are choosing to stay indoors, instead of going outside. However, some also believe that although smart technologies can be educational, it is the well-meaning sensibility of parents that are limiting children when it comes outdoor play.
The changing scene of unsupervised play
It’s important to note that there has been a significant reduction in the radius seen around the parental home where children play. Since the 1970s, this area has shrunk by almost 90%.
Adding to this vigilance is that 80 per cent of seven and eight year olds walked to school either by themselves or only with a friend in 1971. Two decades later, this figure has decreased to 10%, most of whom were accompanied by their parent or guardian. If this is the case when walking to school, then the chances of a child roaming freely in natural settings with their friends is slim. No one is at fault in this scenario, parents simply want their children to remain safe; however, an almost overprotective approach can compromise a child’s mental and physical health.
Why children should be encouraged to play outdoors
Playing outdoors should be encouraged to children as an everyday experience from an early age, so to maintain a modern society that sees people remaining healthy throughout their lifespan.
Helping this can be the maintenance and construction of natural landscapes, which enable youngsters to play in varied and imaginative ways. By going beyond the boundaries, children can open themselves up to new experiences and sensations that they may not have otherwise experienced. Our natural world is highly complex, with an abundance of shapes, textures and spaces for children to explore, discover and hide within.
Take into account too that by playing in the outdoors, as well as around natural settings, children have more chance of remaining fit and healthy. This is because outdoor play is associated with an active lifestyle, whereas inactive lifestyles are associated to those who remain relatively immobile indoors.