Monday 27 April 2015

Read All About It: Traditional Outdoor Childhood Activities In Decline

Firstly, look how tiny Ebony used to be! For this week’s Read All About It post, I thought I’d write about the importance of grazed knees, muddy fingernails and rosy cheeks. A friend shared this Parentdish post about the decline in traditional childhood activities. According to a recent survey commissioned by Eco Attractions Group, kids are spending less time outdoors than previous generations.

This doesn’t really come as much of a surprise, especially when you discover that children aged five to 16 spend an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen. It’s no wonder kids are missing out on the activities that made up the bulk of their grandparents’ childhoods. What with school, television and computer games there’s not really much time left to enjoy the outside world.

A child in the north west spends on average five hours a week outdoors, this is less than half of the time their parents would have spent playing outdoors as kids. As a result:
  • 35% have never splashed in puddles
  • 44% have never stomped through mud
  • most children have never been on a family bike ride
  • around half of all children haven’t made sandcastles on the beach
  • around half of all children haven’t eaten a picnic anywhere but their own back gardens
  • around 70% haven’t picked blackberries
  • and about two thirds of children haven’t ever gone searching for insects

These figures are a bit scary. How can we expect children to learn about, love and respect nature if they never spend any time in it? How can they be expected to want to protect native wildlife if they never see it? How can they be mindful of the food they eat when they have no idea where it comes from?

Outdoor play is so important for developing children. Without walls in their way kids are able to let off steam by tearing across an open field. Climbing trees builds confidence as well as balance, strength and bravery. Splashing in puddles is one of simplest and most fun way to get your children excited about heading outside in bad weather. And mud is always going to be a hit with toddlers.

As parents, we worry about muddy clothes, ruined shoes, grazed knees and bumps. But our kids shouldn’t worry about that stuff. What will the laundry powder adverts of the future look like if there are no muddy clothes to be washed?! Children should be fearless adventurers soaking up the world around them. They should learn through play, push boundaries and seek out new experiences.

Three quarters of parents would like their children to spend more time playing outside, and around the same number admit to being part of the problem. If, as parents, we do not embrace the great outdoors then how can we expect our children to? I often hear UK parents talking about how much better kids have it in Australia, how children over there spend their free time outdoors instead of cooped up in front of screens. I have no idea if this is true, I would guess that there are plenty of kids in Australia glued to their x-boxes right now. And yet, you only have to have visited a local playground in the past couple of weeks to see what a difference a bit of sunshine can make to the visitor numbers.

I must be honest, I’m not really all that keen on trudging around in bad weather. And for that reason, when Ebony had just mastered walking, I made it my mission to spend time exploring nature with her. I blogged about it all here. We went to National Trust gardens, foraged for blackberries, collected conkers, paddled in streams and picked wild flowers. We went out in every kind of weather possible. We splashed in puddles, slid through mud, built snowmen and rolled down grass hills.

I’m so glad that Ebony has experienced so many of the outdoor activities I loved as a child. We are failing her in a couple of areas though. She hasn’t yet flown a kite, though I did get one recently from a charity shop so we should be able to tick that off soon. And she’s never been camping, mostly because we don’t have a tent. She has been motorhoming though, does that count? And we’ll be staying in a katas for a couple of nights over the summer.

Ebony is growing up and it won’t be long before she is starting nursery five days a week. The thought of losing that time with her makes me feel a little sick, so I’m going to make sure we make the most out of the weekdays we have left together. This article has inspired me to seek out some new outdoor adventures with my little adventurer, and see what fun we can have outside our front door.

How much time do your little ones spend playing outdoors each day?

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