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Decline of public playgrounds ‘pushing children indoors’

Parents are increasingly concerned that a decline in outdoor playgrounds is pushing more children indoors to indulge in screen time, say play campaigners.

A survey reveals that the vast majority of parents believe that playgrounds, which have closed in their droves in recent years, are vital in getting and keeping children outdoors and leading an active lifestyle.

The Association of Play Industries (API) believes that the decline in play facilities and the popularity of screen culture is leading to a ‘crisis’ for children in terms of their physical and mental health’. The API commissioned the survey on behalf of Mumsnet, and asked more than 1,100 parents about their children’s play habits.

Growing concern

What it revealed was a wave of growing concern regarding children’s activity levels and the shift from outdoor play to indoor screen time. Nine out of 10 parents who did not live close to a playground said that having access to one would get their children outside more. Of those living close to a playground, just over 60 per cent said that play facilities were instrumental in getting their child active.

Almost half said their child preferred screen time over other activities, while almost half of those questioned said they found it difficult to persuade their child to leave their screen. This was particularly prevalent – around 70 per cent – among the 10 to 12-year-olds.

At least one urban public playground closes every week in the UK, says the API, and that by 2020/21 there will have been a 44 per cent drop in funding for play facilities since 2017/18. Its new Play Must Stay campaign is urgent and sustained investment in public play provision.

‘Pulled indoors’

Mark Hard, API Chair, said: “Children are being ‘pulled’ indoors by screens and ‘pushed’ away from outdoor play because of the alarming and continued decline in public playgrounds. They are experiencing a childhood where time spent playing and being active is negligible compared to previous generations.

“The overwhelming majority of UK children live in urban areas. For these children, and particularly those in the most disadvantaged areas, public playgrounds are their only chance for outdoor play. We are in danger of leaving entire communities without anywhere for children to play.  Couple this with the dominance of digital culture and the strong inducement it creates for children to stay indoors – inactive and alone for hours – children are facing a crisis with dire consequences for their mental and physical health.”

‘Playgrounds not a luxury’

The Play Must Stay campaign is also supporting the Children First Alliance in its call for a dedicated Cabinet Minister for Children & Young People. Campaigners hope that such a move will children at the heart of politics and help drive investment in community playgrounds.

“Playgrounds are not a luxury,” added Hard. “They provide a uniquely safe, traffic-free environment in and around our towns and cities and for millions of children they are essential to their current and future health. For policymakers, the funding of public playgrounds should be a priority because they are both prevention and cure; playgrounds fulfil a unique role in improving children’s movement, social interaction, fitness and physical and mental health.

“As a resource to improve children’s health – through movement and outdoor play – the role of public playgrounds should not be under-estimated.  For a relatively modest investment now the health of children could benefit greatly for years to come.  Policy should reflect the reality which is that, in a heavily urbanised and digitally dominated society, public playgrounds really do matter and play must stay.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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