That shocked us too. Sadly, the horrifying statistics don’t stop there:
- 75% of children spend less time outside than prison inmates (1).
- 90% reduction in the area that children explore and play in during their leisure time over the past 20 years. (2).
- One in five children don’t play outside on an average day at all (3).
- One in nine children had not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least a year (4).
- Four out of five children in the UK were not adequately connected to nature (5).
- Less than one in 10 children regularly played in wild spaces, compared to half of children a generation ago (6).
- Only 10% of children have access to outdoor learning (7).
Firstly, how have we ended up here? Secondly, what impact has this had on young people? Thirdly what can ‘we’ do about it?
1. How have we ended up here?
We could blame it all on technology and although young people have many more digital distractions such as phones, gaming, VR and social media, it is far from being the only culprit.
As more time in schools is devoted to academic subjects in order to achieve the standards required, space in the curriculum for more active and creative pursuits has diminished to focus on exams.
Wider influences are also at play, like the lack of accessibility to safe, open spaces as we expand our housing stock. An increase in parental fear over ‘stranger danger’ has led to a rise in ‘helicopter parenting’, restricting freedoms once taken for granted. There is of course a risk, “the chance of a child being killed by a stranger in Britain is, literally, one in a million, and has been since the 70s. (8)” Traffic on the other hand has risen exponentially and does pose a very real, increased threat. Childcare organisations are now genuinely concerned over the possibility of litigation should a child in their care be injured.
In a nutshell we, as a society, are becoming ever more risk adverse.
2. What impact has the reduction of time outdoors had on young people?
Research suggests the reduction of time outside is contributing to many of the challenges facing society today, such as obesity, mental health issues and nature deficit disorder being connected to a rise in ADHD, anxiety and depression, to name but a few. We are yet to truly understand the longer-term impact of stifling our young people’s ability to be free and get outside.
A report by Public Health England states “pupils with better health and well-being are likely to achieve better academically.”
Giving children the opportunity to discover their natural environment has been shown to help create a sense of belonging, improving mental and physical health and higher levels of physical activity is associated with improved emotional, behavioural and cognitive outcomes.
The links are clear. Indisputable one might say.
3. What can we do to get young people outside more?
Schools are an obvious vehicle for implementing change on a large scale but can’t been seen in isolation or as a one stop shop to solve all the issues. They need help and support from families, the wider community and government.
Integrating the outdoors into all aspects of learning, rather than merely dedicated time for being active and outside or a residential camp, would enable schools to continue focusing on covering what is required of them in the curriculum, whilst benefiting from the positive impact on attainment.
If only it were that simple but if we start small and think big, great things can happen. Even the tarmacked outdoor spaces, although not natural, are still outside, without the added complication of everyone getting muddy.
It doesn’t need to take more time or money, but it does require a lot of imagination and the will to succeed to be shared by the whole school – families included.
Arguably the greater obstacle is an attitudinal one, confidence being top of the list – the very thing we need to instill in our young people. Perhaps it is something we can learn together.
“Whatever you do, or dream you can do, begin it. Begin it now” – Goethe
Did you know?
If you need a little extra help, Outposts offer CPD training for teachers in outdoor learning.
(1) A survey conducted by Persil’s ‘Dirt is Good‘ campaign.
(2) The Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey 2016.
(3) A survey conducted by Persil’s ‘Dirt is Good‘ campaign.
(4) The Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey 2016.
(5) RSPB report 2013.
(6) The National Trust ‘Natural Childhood Report’ 2012.
(7) Britain’s Environment Secretary, Liz Truss.
(8) Guardian Article Why our children need to get outside and engage with nature.