Outdoor and Active Play
There is no specific recommendation for the duration of time spent in active play or the amount of time being active outdoors. However, active play, particularly outdoors, contributes to overall physical activity. The UK-wide Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines for physical activity recommend that to receive the health benefits from physical activity we should recognise the importance of play for children’s development.
Children under 5 years old (Early Years) – Children who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day. For children who cannot yet walk unaided, physical activity should be encouraged from birth, especially through floor-based play and water- based activities in safe environments.
The physical activity guidelines for children and teenagers aged 5 to 18 years recommend that: Children should engage in a variety of types and intensities of physical activity every day to develop movement skills, muscular fitness, and bone strength. Activities can include hopping, skipping, and swinging on playground equipment using body weight or working against resistance.
The Research Group used the percentage of children and youth who engage in unstructured/unorganised active play for several hours a day and the percentage of children and youth report being outdoors for several hours a day.
- ThePlaySatisfactionSurvey(2018/2019), children aged 4–18-years (n=5,111)
- The School Health Research Network’s Student Health and Wellbeing survey (2019/2020), children aged 11 to 16 years (n=115,944)
Deciding on a grade
For the benchmark percentage of children and youth who report being outdoors for several hours a day, we used information from the Play Sufficiency Survey 2018-2019 which asked how children how often they go out to play or hang out with friends. 42% of children aged 5-17 report playing out most days. 33% children report playing out a few days each week.
“I learn new things and climb trees” What children say about play in Wales, which reports on the survey data, indicates that 5,884 responses from children were included in the final data set. When set in context of the whole population of children in Wales (567,709), the sample provides a 95% probability that the responses accurately reflect the attitudes of the whole population. 51%% were girls and 49% were boys. The largest group responding (where ages were given) were aged 8 to 11 years (63%).
For the benchmark percentage of children and youth who engage in unstructured/unorganised active play for several hours a day, we used the School Health Research Network (SHRN) Student Health and Wellbeing Survey 2019/20. Playing with friends is included in the definition of exercise in the survey. 41.6 % responded ‘often or more’ to the question ‘how often, during the most recent summer holidays, did you exercise in your free time so much that you got out of breath or sweated.’
Undertaken every two years, the survey provides a regular snapshot of 11-to-16-year old’s’ health behaviours. 198 (94%) schools participated, from which 119,388 11 to 16-year-olds provided responses (a 77% response rate)
The Active Play Indicator Group assigned a C+ to this category. When taking the Play Satisfaction Survey responses to the question ‘days spent playing out’ into account, the group slightly deviated from the recommended > 2h/day. The group determined that responses of ‘most days’ and ‘a few days’ each week were representative of the benchmark ‘several days’ a week. When considered alongside the SHRN responses, a numerical grade of 58 was allocated. This grade has slightly improved from the last AHK-Wales Report Card completed in 2018. However, it should be noted that data for that Report Card only included the information from the response ‘most days’ each week.
The SHRN survey only collected data on children aged 11 to 16 years old. The Play Satisfaction Assessment Survey only reported 13 of 22 local authorities in Wales. It was also not possible to identify the ages of around 2,000 children (out of nearly 6,000) in the survey. Also, collecting data from children in unstructured play in ethically and logistically challenging. Both the Play Satisfaction Survey and the School Health Research Network Survey use self -report methods to obtain data. The Play Satisfaction Survey is run by individual local authorities and methods for data collection vary across Wales. There is limited research available for children under 5 years old (early years) and where this is available, it tends to be gathered through parent surveys and views.
How to improve
Playing is a natural and enjoyable way for children to keep well and be happy. It is their way of supporting their own health and wellbeing. There is a well- established body of solid evidence that shows the contribution that play, particularly self-organised play, can make to children’s long-term and immediate wellbeing, to their physical health and to their mental health and resilience. The following can improve opportunities for play:
Prioritising the views of children:
- Piloting and developing space assessment tools that put children at the centre of informing how local communities are being used and can be utilised to benefit own health and wellbeing.
Making the most of community assets:
- Schools, as a central resource for the local community, should consider the options to make their school grounds available for free play after school and at weekends.
Protecting play time:
- Schools should include a minimum amount of time for play and break time for all children.
- These breaks should not be withdrawn as part of behaviour management or to finish off work.
- Schools should offer a range of opportunities that allow for child-led play