Every child should have the freedom to regularly play out actively and independently close to where they live.
Playing outside gets children active
According to the government’s childhood obesity strategy, nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese. The problem is worse amongst children from the most deprived areas.
Playing outside their homes with their friends is the easiest way for children to get regular exercise. Research shows that children are three times more likely to be physically active when they play out.
Playing outside helps keep children well
According to the Mental Health Foundation, having time and the freedom to play indoors and outdoors can help keep children and young people mentally well.
So, playing out on a street near their homes is vital to children’s health and wellbeing.
Sadly, there are an increasing number of barriers that stop children playing out. Play England has carried out comprehensive research and found that whilst 71% of adults played in the street or area near their home everyday when they were a child, only 21% of children do so today.
Concern on the part of parents and children about the very real dangers of traffic is largely responsible for this decline in outdoor play.
Fear of so-called “stranger danger” also means that parents are sometimes reluctant to let their children play out. Unlike the dangers of traffic fatalities, the fear of ‘stranger danger’ is disproportionate to the risk, as crime figures are relatively unchanged over decades (see p.49-55 ‘No Fear’ by Tim Gill). The fear therefore has more to do with irresponsible and sensationalist media coverage. However, all parents want and deserve reassurance about their children’s safety when playing out, and Street Play projects has been one of the ways in which this reassurance can be provided.
Parks and playgrounds should provide safe and traffic-free play spaces, but often traffic prevents children from accessing them. Also, due to funding cuts many playgrounds and public spaces are being neglected or closed down.
Play England’s Street Play project, has addressed the twin problems of traffic danger and parents’ confidence by helping residents to close their streets for play on a regular basis. Children get to play out in safety, while parents and residents have a chance to get to know each other and build confidence and community spirit.
And new research from the project shows street play can make a critical difference to children’s health and wellbeing, as well as strengthening neighbourhood communities.
It’s a great scheme and is really taking off across the country, but a lot more needs to be done to allow children to play out regularly.