Thursday, 7 September 2017

Outdoor development: How our children are confronting nature

Kenilworth Castle

Playing outdoors and exploring as a child is no longer as appealing as it used to be. Since the 1970s, attitudes towards nature and the outdoors have changed drastically. Parents and teachers are more conscious of stranger danger and children have technology-based entertainment in the comfort of their own homes.

Due to this, children’s outdoor development is being compromised as they are presented with an alternative reality in their bedroom that distracts them from the world outside their window. In collaboration with Infinite Playgrounds, advocates of outside play and designers of natural outdoor playground equipment, we explore how and why a child’s experience has been limited when it comes to the outdoors in the modern age.


The internet and smart devices boast many benefits with regards to how children learn, play and communicate. However, Britain’s children still watch more than 17 hours of television per week and spend more than 20 hours a week online – that is almost 40 hours a week in front of a screen.
In contrast to two to three decades ago, children are opting to stay indoors and fulfil a screen-based lifestyle on social media and websites. 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.

Kenilworth Castle

Child safety

When children do venture outside, they aren’t exploring half as much as they used to. Figures show that the radius around the parental home where children play has shrunk by almost 90% compared to 1970. Similarly, in 1971, 80% of seven and eight year olds walked to school alone or with a friend. Two decades later, this number has drastically decreased to only 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.
There is no one to blame here, parents simply want their children to remain safe; however, an almost overprotective approach can compromise a child’s mental and physical health.

Kenilworth Castle

Physical and mental impact

Playing outdoors as a child, or in natural settings, leads to a fit and healthy lifestyle in adulthood. This is because outdoor play is associated with an active lifestyle, whereas inactive lifestyles are associated to those who remain relatively immobile indoors.

Physical effects

Children’s physical health and well-being is being drastically affected by their reluctance to play outdoors. Around three in ten children in England that are aged between 2 and 15 are considered overweight or obese. If these current trends continue, then by 2050 more than half of all adults, and a quarter of all children, will be obese.

Mental effects

It is hard to avoid the abundance of research that is reporting an increase in child mental health problems in the digital age. The Good Childhood Inquiry found that between 1974 and 1999, the number of children suffering from emotional and behavioural problems increased drastically. Now, one in ten children between the ages of 5 and 16 have a mental health disorder that has been clinically diagnosed.

For children living in urbanised areas, the countryside is an unknown landscape to which they are rarely exposed to. This has altered many children’s perceptions of reality and changed their physical state of mind. As well as mental health problems, a lack of engagement with the natural world has meant that many children can’t learn the resilience and natural problem-solving skills that come with being outdoors and fending for yourself.

Kenilworth Castle

Why should children be venturing outdoors?

As discussed, the attitudes towards exercise and keeping fit in adulthood stem from activity and a good well-being as a child. If a modern society is to stay healthy throughout their lifespan, children should be looking to play outdoors to make exercise a part of their everyday lives from an early age.
By wandering beyond their back yard, children become exposed to more natural landscapes and learn to play in more innovative ways. Here, children can open themselves up to new experiences and stimuli that they may never have discovered. Our natural world is highly complex with an abundance of shapes, textures and spaces for children to explore, discover and hide within.

Mental health greatly depends on physical health. Therefore, playing in new and interesting ways is nourishing for a child’s overall well-being. Letting go of the smart device and getting children outside to discover the great outdoors just may be the making of them. 

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