Pavements adorned with chalked hopscotch games, hide and seek, children ‘knocking on’ their neighbours after dinner and front doors being left open in the summer are but a thing of a far more social past – but with children spending more and more time in isolation and glued to a variety of screens, could it be time to take a step back to the bygone era of letting our kids play out front?
Allowing children to play outdoors gives them a sense of freedom as well as some much-needed fresh air. In Denmark, families allow their children much freedom – with drivers giving way to children who play in the road and some communities even erecting Wendy houses for the neighbourhood children to play in.
Chris Gittens who works for Streets Alive, a group promoting street parties and neighbourhood sociability, believes life is far more insular and less local now.
“Our research has shown the more cars there are, the less people know each other. And the less people know each other, the less happy parents are to let their children roam free. We don’t all go to school locally, shop locally or go to church locally. We don’t know our neighbours and so there is less collective responsibility for children.” He said.
Another worry for parents is also fear of “stranger danger”, which author Simon Parsons describes in his new book ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’. “Stranger Danger” is the fear of our children wondering off with a stranger. The number of children killed by a stranger is actually tiny, but nevertheless is why parents are reluctant to let their children roam free. However, Simon believes that reacting to this fear by removing children from public space entirely could be detrimental to both their own development and society’s.
Playing outdoors has well documented benefits. Only recently a study of 14,000 children by Bristol University found that regular outdoor play at eight or nine years old halves the chance of being short-sighted – as well as encouraging children to be more active and to make friends.
“Kids need to hang out with each other. They need play to be physical. They need to run around. They need the chance to be kids.” Said Gittens.
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