Guest blogger and author of www.wholeland.org.uk, Chris Holland helps people appreciate the natural environment through play. Here he asks: "Are dens and daisy chains things of the past?"
In the late 1970s, 90 per cent of children walked to primary school. Today the figure is just 10 per cent. Newspaper stories report that "72 per cent of today's parents preferred playing outside, but only 40 per cent of today's children would swap time in front of the TV or computer for outdoors play".
Another report I read recently claimed that "42% of children aged between 5 and 16 have never made a daisy chain and 25% have never rolled down a hill". Statistics aside it's clear that the distance parents are willing to let children roam while playing has decreased massively over the last two generations - and this is having a noticebale effect. Studies link childhood obesity, ADHD, a lack of social skills and empathy to the absence of play time and especially outdoor play.
There are many reasons why parents and children are less likely to want to play out today than in the past: more roads, cars, houses, mortgages, gadgets, television, homework, work for parents, more everything plus a variation in religious beliefs and social customs, a fearful climate and a desire to wrap our children in cotton wool all contribute. The pressures of modern life on adults and children are huge and so it is not surprising that playtime is being squeezed until the tube is almost empty! Added to that the fact that many parents feel too unfit, embarrassed and inhibited to play - or are too distracted by their mobile phones to benefit from human interaction.
However play has many benefits. It can help increase fitness, interaction, negotiation, cooperation, imagination, determination. Play increases the ability to cope with painful or stressful situations and also to unwind through activity and laughter. Play helps the brain develop new pathways through problem solving, new ways of moving, new sights, smells, textures. Trying out new crafts and skills cab help children to naturally explore and test physical boundaries and limits to their abilities. Play also helps people to respect different ways of seing the world, ideas and beliefs. Play can also even delay the mental decline associated with old age!
Children learn through example and actions are often louder than words. It is not enough anymore to simply open the door and say "Go play out!". Our children need us to play, too: we have to set an example, even if it is just for 15 minutes. When we play, and are immersed in the play, there is no past, no future, just now. Being present. Play is Vital for happiness and emotional health andwellbeing. So how do we play and what can parents do to facilitate play? A thousand mile journey starts with just one step. Even a short walk out can lead to an imaginary adventure.
Remembering the games we played as kids, making up new ones and going along with your own children's ideas is fun and in my view essential for our own health, just as much as it is for theirs, our communities and our common future. I am not the only one. Other dads are up for it too. Austin Healey, former England International and father of four girls between 3 and 9 said, "We all have busy lives but parents need to make time to play with their kids and to encourage them to play. Even if it is just for 15 minutes a day parents have got to make the effort because the benefits are huge!"
Are you willing to open the door or make a daisy chain?
For more from Chris visit www.wholeland.org.uk
You can order Chris's book I love My World from this website too.