Screens aren't the only reason kids aren't playing outdoors, according to UK charities (and we remember #3 from when we were kids)

The Government are being pushed to prioritise outdoor space where children can play as new inquiry begins

child looking out of window and split screen with no ball games sign on street wall
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Worried your child is spending too much time on screens? It looks like technology isn't the only thing to blame as 'No ball games' signs are just one of the reasons children are suffering from a lack of places to play safely outdoors, UK charities have warned.

Do you remember playing outside in the street as a child? Whether it was a game of good old British Bulldog or Kerby, children were able to come outside and go inside as they pleased [until those dreaded 'no ball games' signs started popping up]. There are 8 types of play your kid needs to support their development, but it's no good having the best outdoor toys and games if children don't have a safe space to play them.

As MPs start a committee inquiry into how better planning could enhance the well-being of children, charities have warned that children and young people are suffering huge damage to their health as a result of policymakers refusing to prioritise those needs for outdoor play.

Alice Ferguson, Associate and Board Director of Playing Out, a small non-profit national social change organisation founded by parents, “Compared to previous generations, children’s lives have become incredibly restricted, indoors, isolated and inactive, largely due to changes in the outdoor environment. Government could reverse this trend and hugely improve children’s health and wellbeing by making streets safer and neighbourhoods more child-friendly, enabling them to get outside and play every day.”

Alice Ferguson of Playing Out
Alice Ferguson

In 2009 Alice teamed up with neighbour Amy Rose to develop a temporary play street model on their street and it led to Playing Out CIC, a small not for profit, social change organisation that focuses on projects, development, strategy, advocacy, campaigning, public speaking and writing work towards the long-term vision.

Parenting differs in other countries like this 164-year-old Swedish secret to raising happy and resilient kids, and countries including Germany, Norway and Sweden have policies/guidance on ensuring cities are more child-friendly.

Clive Betts, the Labour MP who chairs the levelling up, housing and communities committee running the inquiry, said: “We want to find out more about how children and young people experience outdoor spaces in towns, cities and rural areas across England.

“What policy interventions from local and central government could help to deliver streets, estates, villages, neighbourhoods and parks that enable kids to enjoy active outdoor lifestyles and engage with others?”

But charities - a coalition of Playing Out, Save the Children UK and Wildlife and Countryside Link - are concerned that the physical and mental health of children and young people is in serious and long-term decline. And is something that is worsened by poverty. They claim children want to be outside, active, playing with friends and walking or cycling to school but various barriers are stopping them from doing so.

Factors stopping children from playing outside include;

  1. Traffic-dominated neighbourhoods - as a result of 'low-quality housing layouts, inadequate facilities, and poorly designed housing estates'
  2. A lack of parks and green spaces and other accessible high-quality natural spaces - these are said to have 'harmed children's health, and undermined their quality of life'.
  3. No ball game areas - the signs put a restriction on children, stopping them from playing where they want outside and in 'door-step' space.
  4. Economic deprivation and racial inequality - these are considered to have 'compounded children's lack of access to outdoor play'

The coalition said in a statement, "Government policy has not addressed some of the root causes of this – and in some cases has added to the problem. A child-focused built environment policy could transform children’s lives, health and wellbeing … effective low-cost policies could be enacted almost immediately,”

“Children are also prevented or discouraged from using other ‘doorstep space’ – for example on housing estates – due to a lack of safe, accessible or suitable space and a lack of permission to use the space outside their homes.

“‘No ballgames’ signs and culture are still prevalent in social housing schemes across the UK,” it added.

The inquiry will start hearing evidence on Wednesday.

In other family news, ‘It’s okay to not like playing’ – a parenting psychologist reveals 3 reasons why playing with your kid feels like a chore and Is your child not playing with their toys? 3 reasons why and what to do about it.

Selina Maycock
Senior Family Writer

Selina is a Senior Family Writer for GoodtoKnow and has more than 16 years years of experience. She specialises in royal family news, including the latest activities of Prince George, Charlotte, Louis, Archie and Lilibet. She also covers the latest government, health and charity advice for families. Selina graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2006 with a degree in Journalism, and gained her NCTJ and NCE qualifications. During her career, she’s also written for Woman, Woman's Own, Woman&Home, and Woman's Weekly as well as Heat magazine, Bang Showbiz - and the Scunthorpe Telegraph. When she's not covering family news, you can find her exploring new countryside walking routes, catching up with friends over good food, or making memories (including award-winning scarecrows!)