Playing and meeting outdoors
Children of all ages consistently say that playing and meeting up with their friends is important to them. The outdoors continues to be their favourite place to play.
Providing opportunities for children and teenagers to play outside and meet up with friends is crucial for their physical, mental and social health and wellbeing. It also affects their happiness and helps them develop social skills.
Having the freedom to play outdoors and meet up with friends in their neighbourhoods helps children develop their confidence and independence. It also helps them get to know and understand the world around them. The places where they play and meet up include playgrounds, parks, outside shops, and other public spaces.
Barriers to playing outside
For some children, opportunities to play and meet up with friends outdoors beyond their gardens are limited. Several common trends and issues impact on children’s ability to play outside in their neighbourhoods, such as:
- changes in communities – including increased car use, increased traffic (moving and parked), lack of friends living nearby, difficulty getting to places to play and changing work patterns
- parental restrictions due to fears about safety, traffic and ‘stranger danger’
- increased intolerance towards children playing and meeting up outdoors, with children being seen as ‘out of place’ in public spaces.
The lack of opportunity to play outside has an impact on children’s health and wellbeing and on their resourcefulness and resilience.
Supporting children so they can play and meet up outside
Play Wales calls for better use of public places – for example streets – so that children and teenagers can explore and play in their neighbourhoods.
When children have access to places where they can play and meet up with their friends, communities become more tolerant of play. Supportive and caring adults who understand and are tolerant of play can strengthen children’s experiences of play and their development.
‘Play streets’ (also known as street play) is the name given to a kind of play session where children can play safely outside their homes. This simple idea gives children the space and permission to play in the street.
In play streets:
- a residential road is restricted to traffic to ensure safety and freedom
- volunteer stewards at each road closure point redirect traffic and give parents peace of mind
- play sessions are led by neighbours and publicised only within the immediate area
- parents and carers are responsible for their own children
- the emphasis is on free, unstructured play
- children usually bring out their own toys such as skipping ropes, bikes and scooters
- adults have the opportunity to meet and get to know their neighbours better and experience a car-free street.
To support play streets projects, we have worked with Playing Out, the national organisation that supports street play throughout the UK. Together we have developed resources for residents, local authorities and partners in Wales.
Children in public spaces
Playing, relaxing and socialising are important parts of teenagers’ lives. They contribute to teenagers’ sense of identity, as well as their development and wellbeing. Older children and teenagers have traditionally used different spaces to play and meet up with friends, making good use of public spaces, such as:
- town centres
- street corners
- the spaces outside shops.
Unfortunately, over the years, there has been less tolerance towards children and teenagers playing and meeting up in public spaces.
Older children and teenagers have talked to us about their fears about playing outside. These include bullying or threats from other children their age and they feel safer in larger groups. However, other people often find these larger groups threatening and groups of older children can discourage younger children from visiting parks more regularly.
How to organise playing out sessions on your street
This toolkit offers a step-by step guide for residents organising street play sessions. It’s based on the experience of parents and residents across the UK. The toolkit comes with supporting resources designed to help parents organise play sessions on their street. (These are available to download in our Resources library).
Opening streets for play
This toolkit is designed to provide clear and concise information about street play for local authorities and their partners. It’s intended to help local authorities develop policies and procedures to enable resident-led street play projects in their areas. It is also useful for housing associations, school communities, community workers and residents to help them understand the opportunities and challenges.
Preparing your child to play outside safely and confidently
These top tips from Playful Childhoods will help parents give their children the support they need to play outside in their neighbourhoods.