Outdoor play – is it accessible enough?

Nature’s playground but it isn’t always accessible

Another study on family life has emerged, this time suggesting that parents have lost the art of playing with their children. The study, sponsored by drinks company Ribena, suggests that traditional games have been replaced with expensive gadgets because of parental anxiety over health and safety issues and an obsession with achieving goals brought on by the government’s testing regime.  The study of more than 2,000 parents of children between the ages of 3 and 15 also showed that whilst most parents believed in the importance of outdoor play only about a third said they took them outside. This has led to experts warning that children are missing out on vital learning experiences.

Interestingly the survey also coincides with a campaign by the National Trust to encourage sofa bound children to get outdoors and back to nature.  The charity’s “50 things to do before you’re 11¾” campaign includes activities such as climbing a tree, building a den and even throwing snow!  Click here if you want to read more.

I think many of us know that playing outdoors is good for our children but accessing it is a totally different matter.  In my children’s early years we did many outdoor activities. We paddled in streams, we went on cycle rides, we picked fruit, we had family picnics, we explored local woods but I’ve found it has become more difficult to do these things as my children have got older.  It’s not just the autism and the aspergers that has had a huge impact on what we can do as a family but peer pressure for fashionable technology. It is hard to resist demands for technology when so many of their peers have this and that and its also hard to encourage them outside when technology has such an enticing pull.

Try selling the virtues of blackberry picking to a ten year old child with aspergers syndrome who has discovered the joys of minecraft? It’s difficult.  In fact its not just difficult its incredibly challenging to help an autistic child switch from their special interest to another activity.  I recall one occasion where we spent four hours encouraging my daughter to visit the local park but we managed it because we do think it is important to get out and about.

However, whilst playing outdoors is important I don’t think we should be too negative about technological gadgets either because as I’ve found technology can enhance lives. As my children’s difficulties have become more pronounced technology has acted as a huge therapeutic and learning tool for them. As they have found it harder to go out they have found comfort in indoor games.  This doesn’t mean their gadget based play is in isolation from other people and neither does it mean that they are not using their imagination. Since my son has been using xbox he is starting to interact with his peers from his special school something he has never been able to do in his community due to bullying or at his old mainstream school who had no clue about inclusion.  As for minecraft, my son loves the creative side of it and has produced some amazing designs which is a huge boost to his self esteem as he sees what he has produced.

It’s all very well experts telling us about the importance of outdoor play but the reality for many children is that outside play experiences are not always accessible. To give you an example, my local park is a no-go area; it is an area frequented by drug addicts and alcohol abuse and where no responsible parent allows their child to play on their own. As for playing on the street, many of my local roads are simply not suitable for independent play due to the amount of traffic and speed at which some people drive their cars.

In addition, those that do play along our road are often criticised by the elder generation for kicking a ball or playing tag or generally just causing noise. An example of this is the little green we have down our road which bans ball games because of the daffodils.  As nice as daffodils are it seems wrong that bulbs have taken priority over the need for young people to play on a patch of grass away from busy traffic.

For families like mine with special needs, outdoor play can be even harder to access due to the emotional or physical difficulties of getting to places.  A friend of mine who has two physically disabled children cannot even access her back garden due to the difficulties of maneuvering wheelchairs.  For me it can take hours or even days of encouraging my children outdoors which can leave you emotionally drained before you’ve even got out of the front door.  Even then I cannot be sure my children will cope with whatever activity we have planned for.

As for organised groups such as scouts and guides they aren’t that inclusive either. Their lack of understanding of the autism spectrum resulted in my son giving up on scouts and my daughter giving up on brownies due to the lack of support which is a pity as their elder sister has got so much from her time at these groups.

It’s too easy to assume it is the fault of parents that children do not play outside.  I’m sure there are some parents who aren’t interested in encouraging their children outdoors but there are also families like mine whose children face a lot of barriers to playing outside.  Rather than blame parents isn’t it time we made it easier for children to enjoy the outdoors and also the opportunities provided by groups such as the scouting movement?


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3 Responses to Outdoor play – is it accessible enough?

  1. Jonas Bobjörk says:

    When I read that part with the scout not being inclusive I just must mention that we just started a project to make swedish scout leaders better at handling children with special needs. How? Well, by adapt to the children in their group, without focusing on disorders, but just see the needs of the individuals.
    We call it adapted leadership and I joined it because the swedish scout say they “have no substitute bench” and in my world that means that all are welcome.
    I have been a scout since I was 8. I’m 31 today. And I have Aspergers. So I know it IS possible. My leaders coped, even though they did not know of my diagnosis. I had my ups and downs. But with the right way of leading there should not be any problem.
    Nice to read your blog. Found it by “accident.”

    /Jonas, Sweden

  2. Pinkoddy says:

    This is a great post – thanks for linking up to Thursday’s Thought.

    My son is 16 this year and up to a point we could take him places (with a lot of difficulty) but then there comes the point where it’s not “cool” or whatever for your parents to be with you but because of the difficulties of the Aspergers neither is it safe for them not to be. In fact the time when we did leave him to go to the park on his own he was beaten up and came home crying with a black eye – this was YEARS ago and it took him a lot to go out again. Luckily he does go backwards and forwards to a friend’s house now and they will go together – I feel so lucky as I thought that would never happen.

    But back to your point about Scouts etc – my son just went away with the school and DofE and they are VERY familiar with his difficulties and decided just to ignore them. Again, luckily, he was placed in a good team and they seemed to sort things out – food, shelter etc. As he had no clue and no-one was helping despite all my phone calls.
    Ah rant over lol.

  3. Jim Reeve says:

    I remember when I was young I’d spend tons of time playing outside, but I’d alos spend lots of time playing inside. But in the same regard, when I was young, it was safe to play outside unsupervised. In today’s society, allowing your young child to play outside, even in the backyard, can be risky. It’s no wonder that more kids are staying inside with their computers.

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