Barriers to Outdoor Play

When parents and children are surveyed, they have a long list of all the reasons why kids don’t play outside anymore:

Safety issues: traffic, stranger danger, risk of injury in natural settings (parents often forbid outdoor play because of safety, plus some kids opt out of outdoor play because of these fears)

  • Safety could be increased if all parents were keeping an eye out for each other’s children (as they were more likely to do in the past), but on one survey, 44% of men and 28% of women would be wary to help a child in need of assistance, in case they were suspected of attempting to abduct the child
  • Although many people believe that the world is a “more dangerous place than it used to be”, statistics actually show that the rate of child abduction by strangers has stayed stable over the past 20+ years, and the rate of car-pedestrian accidents has gone down

They don’t have time

  • Homework stops kids from playing (34% of kids)
  • Kids are too busy with other recreational activities
  • Children’s time is very structured with after-school care
  • Parents report that work and other commitments limit the time they can spend outdoors with their kids

Outdoor play is inconvenient for parents

  • Clothes can get wet or dirty (not only is this inconvenient, but 2/3 of parents say they worry about being judged a bad parent if their kids’ clothes are dirty – Persil 2005)
  • Parents aren’t able to get their work / housework done while supervising outside play
  • In the past (e.g. 1950’s – 1970’s), parents often sent kids out in to play unsupervised in the neighborhood while they did their work. This rarely happens now. One survey showed 47% of adults think it is unsafe for kids to play out without supervision, 37% worry they will be judged by their neighbors if they let children out unsupervised

Kids aren’t interested in playing outside

  • It’s uncomfortable (too hot, too cold, too many bugs)
  • There is nowhere to play / nothing to do
  • There are lots of tempting reasons to stay inside (e.g. screen time)
  • Note: parents are more likely to report this as a concern than children are

Lack of access to nature

  • Outdoor recreation options are too expensive
  • Outdoor areas too far away, or they lack transportation to get there

There’s no one to play with / their friends don’t play outside

  • Parents of young children (toddlers and pre-schoolers) note that when other parents propose a playdate, they always seem to assume that the children will play indoors and rarely suggest meeting at a park or outdoor area

So, there’s lots of reasons NOT to go outside. Are there reasons to go out? Definitely! Stay tuned and soon I will post a list of risks of nature deficit disorder / benefits to outside time.

One quick benefit I’ll note is the quote “If your kids are bouncing off the walls, take away the walls!” Many parents discover that on the days when everyone is going crazy inside, just getting outside for a while can release lots of that energy and get everyone re-grounded. Watch the video linked at the top of this post for a look at this phenomenon.

Once you’ve decided that you want more outdoor time for your child, look here for tips on overcoming the barriers to outdoor play.

4 thoughts on “Barriers to Outdoor Play

  1. Pingback: Why you should let your child play in the mud: Benefits of Outdoor Play | Bellevue Toddlers

  2. Pingback: How much time are kids spending outside? | Bellevue Toddlers

  3. Myra

    Wonderful web site! Do you have suggestions for equipment that can be used outside in a somewhat urban space as a barrier (or define space) for children , so they know the barriers of their playspace?

    1. Janelle Durham Post author

      Depends on their age, and their temperament. For little ones, you really need a physical barrier they can’t get around. I’ve used picnic edges laid on their sides, or ropes tied at the child’s chest height (so they have to slow down to duck under – gives me a second to catch up). If you search on Amazon for “portable toddler fence” you come up with some extra wide baby gates, and giant play pens if you would find those more reassuring. For preschoolers, I have just drawn a line on the sidewalk with chalk. When we go outside, I walk the boundary with them so they know their limit, and tell them what the consequence will be if they cross that line: we’ll go back inside. Now, if they just slowly slip across the line on accident one time, I can give a reminder. But if they go running over the line, we’re absolutely going back in. Do that a couple times, and they learn to honor the rule.


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