Our Kids Are Not Spending Enough Time Outdoors

  • Parents Only

A recent study has found that pre-school-aged children only spend one hour a day playing outside when not in daycare. This clocks up just one third of the three hours a day of physical activity that the Federal Government guidelines recommend for 2 – 5 year olds. This could be playing a huge part in the obesity crisis, especially among children, with 20% of Australian pre-school-aged children now reported to be obese.

So, how can you make sure your child is getting enough physical activity? According to Associate Professor Hayley Christian, lead researcher on this project, it all starts at home.

Home Is Where The Heart Rate Is

“The main factor associated with increased play time in the yard was the number of fixed play structures, with each additional piece of equipment adding an average of five minutes to a child’s daily play time,” reported Associate Professor Christian. The study found that as well as play equipment such as climbing frames and sand pits — yard size, lawn quality, and natural features and play areas also had a positive impact on the amount of time children spent playing in their backyard. This means if you were able to add a trampoline and a slide to your garden, your children would, in theory, spend an extra hour a week playing outside.

The study, Associations between the home yard and preschoolers’ outdoor play and physical activity, came out of the University of Western Australia and was published earlier this month in the Public Health Research & Practice by the Sax Institute. The research included 1,600 pre-school-aged children.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to comprehensively measure outdoor play time in the home,” said Dr Christian. “The home yard is crucial for providing an opportunity for kids to be active, as they are so dependent on their parents and don’t have the independent mobility to get out and about on their own. Backyard play is a much better option than screen time, considering all the health and developmental benefits children get by playing outdoors and being physically active.”

Get Outta Here

Previous research has shown that spending time outside not only helps with children’s level of physical activity, but it also helps with their development: fine-tuning motor skills and experimenting with risk. Learning to take risks, have a go at things, climbing, jumping and balancing are all important lessons in the early development stages.

With the rapid development of Australian cities and increase in high-density residential buildings, what can parents who live in an apartment do about outdoor play for their kids? Aside from bringing outdoor games, like cricket, indoors with your Nintendo Wii, apartment-dwelling families can try to make use of communal areas such as pools and tennis courts. Some newer apartment buildings even have built-in kids play areas, so if you are relocating, keep that in mind. You can also utilise your balcony: as the study found, having a flowerbed or herb garden can encourage kids to spend more time outdoors.

Be A Role Model

You can also try and incorporate it into your daily routine outside the house, because let’s face it, most of us adults could use a bit more physical activity, too! We are not saying you should start walking the two kilometres to day care instead of driving. But how about parking one block away and strolling the extra five minutes there and back, or going on a family bike ride? You don’t have to overhaul your whole life, but the small changes all add up.

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