One of the terrifying facts I learned in recent years was that children in the UK spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. UN guidelines state inmates should receive 1 hour outdoors per day. There are no such rules for children.
The average primary school child will spend around 6 hours per day in front of a screen, raising to around 8.5 hours a day for secondary children. The scary thing is, these figures were based on life before Covid, before children were sat in front of a screen for their learning.
A child in Scotland will spend around 6,650 hours within a primary classroom and around 6156 hours for secondary children. That is almost 13,000 hours in learning cubes by the time they reach 18 years of age. Cut off from nature. Some might say being turned into great specimens for the industrial age.
These figures show that children are spending exceedingly large amounts of their lives either indoors, either at home or in school.
Now, please stop and imagine the world you want your children and even grandchildren to grow up in. Do you want them to know what the bark of a tree feels like? The satisfaction of biting into sweet ripe fruits they have grown or collected themselves or making a pot of soup with vegetables they recognise and can name, maybe even grown? How about them enjoying a lazy afternoon watching the bees and butterflies explore a garden, flitting from flower to flower? Do you want them to have the enjoyment of taking a walk in a park? To know the fun in making a wish whilst blowing on a dandelion?
These are the things at risk by decreasing our children’s time outdoors.
But how does time outdoors connect to the world our children and children’s children will inherit?
Research has shown that if children are introduced and build a connection with the natural world before they are 12 years old, they develop a sense of place. Whilst this supports their mental and physical health, it also has a long term positive impact on the environment. There is an increased chance that they will continue their relationship with nature into adulthood, leading to them being more likely to want to conserve and care for natural areas throughout their lives.
The physical and health benefits are significant. We are becoming increasingly sedentary as a species. This is leading to the obesity crisis, which has long term implications on health and the economy. Time outdoors usually means time moving and burning calories which is good for us!
But more than that, time outdoors can help children succeed educationally. Just 20minutes outdoors is shown not only to reduce stress and anxiety but also increase test and exam results.
As the generations pass, we spend less time outdoors. The vast majority of councils in the UK have already cut their outdoor funding, and 92% are expecting more significant cuts.
If we do not care for our green spaces, they will go to wrack and ruin and eventually disappear; the cuts show this is already happening. The health benefits we receive from them will be gone. The enjoyment we receive from them will be gone.
I don’t want to be an old granny in the corner talking wistfully about watching bees bumble; butterflies flutter, the feel of rough of the bark of trees and the magic of watching seedlings you planted grow whilst the children can only see these things in their VR headsets and have no way to experience it.
We need to encourage children to spend more time outdoors in their education and in their leisure time to ensure they inherit the world we would like them to.