Why Do Our Children Spend Less Time Outside Than Prisoners?

Current UN guidelines for prisoners state that “Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits.” One hour a day amounts to around 4% of our day being spent outdoors. It doesn’t sound like a lot, right?

According to a 2016 study:

  • 74% of 5-12 year olds spend less than 60 minutes outside each day
  • Almost one third of children play outside for 30 minutes or less a day
  • One in five children don’t play outside at all on an average day
  • Children spend twice as much time on screens inside as they do playing outside
  • 97% of parents believe that without play, their children’s learning would suffer

Yet these figures don’t add up. If almost every parent believes that their child needs play to enhance their learning, why is it that our children are not spending time outdoors? Why is it that they do not even play outdoors for the minimum period of time specified for a prisoner to spend outdoors by the UN?

According to a 2010 study by Play England:

  • Opportunity and space for children’s play is in decline
  • 90% of adults played in their street regularly as children, but one in three of today’s children say they don’t play out in their street at all
  • Children’s playtime at school has been substantially reduced over the last 15 years
  • In 2010, only a quarter of 7 – 11 year olds are allowed to come home from school – compared with over three quarters in Germany
  • In 1971, almost half of seven year olds in England were allowed out alone, now it’s less than 10%


What all of this evidence suggests is that:

  • We have devalued play, offering less opportunity, time, and space for it to occur
  • We have lost our trust in the world, meaning that children are only allowed to be outside when accompanied by an adult
  • Children are choosing to spend time on screens rather than outdoors

As a child, this author remember endless evenings at the local park playing with local kids without an adult on site (or in sight). It’s not that this doesn’t happen at all anymore, but it certainly doesn’t happen as much. Yet if we value the importance of play for our children’s development – both mentally and physically – and we are wary about them being out of doors alone, we must find a way to encourage them to play outdoors in a safe environment. We must make safe environments that children want to play in.

At Flights of Fantasy we make engaging outdoor play areas that encourage children and adults to visit, but we are just one small part of a much bigger solution – and not every location is suitable for an extensive play area – so what is it that we are going to do? Why is it that children get less outdoor time than prisoners? How are we going to make this better for our children? Please comment below to share your thoughts on the subject.

All resources and studies included below, as well as a thought provoking video.


Leave a comment