A third of UK kids need to get out more

Figure drops to 28% for London youngsters, but that’s still not good enough

Remember the days when, if the sun was shining, your mum would insist that you go out to play?*

No? Well, in truth, I’m struggling to also.

Back when I was a kid the biggest “barrier” to playing outside was if there was something good on the telly.

However, in those days, when I lived just off the Old Kent Road, if we were playing, say, cricket out in the street (old metal dustbins formed a pretty good wicket) the game would be suspended for half an hour while we all went in to watch whatever.  But, as soon as the programme was finished, we would all come out again and a new over would be bowled.

Playing outside in a terrace-lined street close to a main thoroughfare could not be described as out in the fresh air. But I still think it was/is healthier than sitting inside playing computer games or texting mates on your phone all the time (when I was young you have to go out to a phone box that used to be on many a street corner).  

Research has indicated that nearly a third of children in the UK are spending less than the recommended time outside. The figure drops a little (to 28%) for London kids who, thankfully, lag well behind the worst offenders in England’s second city, Birmingham (48%).

It seems that 31% of kids in Britain are failing to play outdoors for the NHS recommended minimum of three hours per week, with nearly a half of children from Birmingham spending less than two hours outside per week, according to parents.

Really, three hours per week, surely that is ridiculously low? I would have thought it should be at least an hour per day, rain and snow permitting.

New research by TP Toys on the hours children spend playing outside in UK cities follows a recent government report which details the importance of children spending invaluable time outside to aid with character development and learning progression. 

The survey reveals that children are spending less time outside than ever, with parents admitting that they are struggling to encourage them to leave the house. 

Following on from this, the new data finds that the UK cities where children spend the least time outside are Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham and Bristol where more than a third of kids spend less than two hours in the garden a week. 

Nearly two-thirds of children (61%) spend four hours or less playing outside a week with one in 10 spending less than an hour outside per week. 

The Midlands city of Birmingham comes in at the top with 48%of children spending less than two hours outdoors per week, of which 19% spend less than an hour outside. Liverpool is a close second with 44% spending less than two hours outdoors each week and 5% of parents admitting that their children never go out in the garden. 

Birmingham parents struggle the most to encourage their children to spend more time outside with nearly a quarter (23%) admitting this. Families in Belfast (22%), Manchester (20%), Glasgow (19%) and Bristol (19%) also struggle with getting their children outside.

The survey also shows that parents are desperate to get their children to play with friends more, 60% of Glasgow parents stating this and nearly half of parents in Cardiff (48%). 

Children are spending the most time outside in Belfast and Norwich with 39% of kids spending more than six hours outside a week in Belfast and 31% in Norwich. 

The report recommends five activities for children to try outside: sport, creativity, performing, volunteering and work experience. Although children are spending less time outside, trampolines (28%), swings (19%) and climbing frames (13%) are still some of the UK’s favourite toys.

TP Toys digital marketing director, Kyle Maglione, said: “Despite the decline in children playing outside it’s great to remember some of our most played nostalgic games like Hide and Seek, British Bulldog and Kerby and the different rules of how to play them.

“Socialising and running around in the fresh air is an important part of learning and something we should still be encouraging for both children and adults. Playing these favourite childhood games and toys are a great way of doing so.”

Worst cities where children spend less than two hours outside per week

  1. Birmingham – 48%
  2. Liverpool – 44%
  3. Nottingham – 36%
  4. Bristol – 33%
  5. Edinburgh – 33%
  6. Southampton – 30%
  7. Manchester – 30%
  8. London – 28%
  9. Cardiff – 28%
  10. Belfast – 27%

*Speaking of going out to play while the sun shone, I recall visiting a friend of mine in Thailand about 18 months after he moved there permanently. He, like me, was conditioned to think that if the sun was shining he had to be outside. He said: “It took me about six months to realise that I did not have to go outside, religiously, given there was a more than even chance that it would also be shining the next day.”  

Writing about children at play reminded me of a favourite song by Cat Stevens. See below. The video film is slightly washed out and grain, but the song still sounds as good.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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