You don’t have to be parenting expert to know that outdoor play has untold benefits when it comes to childhood, from being great exercise to seeing the world from a new perspective – like the top of a slide or a climbing frame.
If you’re a regular follower of the blog you’ll know we live in flat by the seaside in Hove, next to Brighton, in East Sussex. The only downside of living in a block of flats so close to the sea – other than the fact we could do with a third (or fourth!) bedroom – is that we don’t have a garden.
We’re among the one in seven UK households who now live in a flat, and the number is rising according to Land Registry figures, meaning growing up in a home without a garden is a reality for millions of children like mine.
And the reality of living in a flat with no outside space is that the kids can’t have a tree house or a tipi, they can’t have a swing or a climbing frame and they can’t have a trampoline or a sand pit either.
Coupled with the fact that research by school playground experts ESP Play and Liverpool John Moores University reveals that the amount of physical activity taking place in PE lessons in UK schools is remarkably low – they found 68% of the average child’s PE lesson is spent stationary – encouraging outdoor play is more important than ever.
So, how can you make sure they not only get the chance to experience outdoor play but reap the rewards when you don’t have any outside space of your own? Here’s how we’re (trying) to make it work.
Encouraging outdoor play when you don’t have a garden
1. Make the most of your local parks. We live in a city and we’re really lucky to have three brilliantly equipped play parks within walking distance (one of which boasts a super-duper pirate ship climbing frame courtesy of Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, who owns the café next door). I try and encourage our three to go on things we’d have at home if only we had a garden as much as possible, like climbing frames and monkey bars.
2. Does school (or nursery) have any outdoor space? Because we live in a city and don’t have a garden a school with a grass field was high up on our list of priorities when we were choosing primary schools. We actually chose the only primary school in our area with a grass field, and I’m so glad we did because the oldest does all sorts on it, from sports to Tudor banquets to making stone age artwork.
3. Consider what play equipment is available at school (and nursery). Another reason we were particularly attracted to our first choice of primary school was the playground equipment, including wooden climbing frames and water play tables. The same goes for nursery, where they have a sandpit and mud kitchen alongside traditional playground equipment.
4. Take advantage of extra-curricular activities at school and nursery. Like Forest School. Both the oldest and the middle one have had the chance to go to a local Forest School thanks to school and nursery, where they can climb trees, build dens and make toast on an open fire. The sort of stuff childhood memories are made of.
5. If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain. You might not have a garden at home, but that doesn’t actually mean you can’t have one. We’ve had an allotment for four years now and the kids love playing on it, from digging holes to making mud cakes. Just visit your local council’s website and add your name to the waiting list. And if you’re really lucky, there may not be a waiting list at all!
Do you worry about ensuring your kids have enough outdoor play? Do you have your own garden, or do you have to go in search of outdoor play like us? I’d love to hear about your experience!
This post was written in collaboration with ESP Play.