A parent and research perspective
From the smallest patch of common land or local park to the destination parks, parkland or even wild natural places beyond, playing outside in green space is wonderful for children. And especially important if they don’t have access to a garden.
In green space, children have ready made safe space to run around and play games together, without worrying about traffic. They get to explore, have more freedom and be more independent, inside or outside any fenced off playing area.
Green space also gives children more contact with nature. Nature is all around us, even if we live in the most built up area. But green space gives children grass and earth, if not also trees, birds, insects, bushes and flowers. Children can interact with all of this and learn about the natural world around them. And all evidence shows that time in nature is also good for mental health.
There can be lots of barriers to using green space for play, including dog poo and other anti social behaviour, and even the threat of the land being sold off. But a key challenge is that children have to be able to get to it, sometimes across many busy roads. This has become a much bigger problem since the 70s and 80s when streets were safer and children played out more freely. A trip to the park, for many, now depends on adults being free to supervise. It’s also no longer the cultural norm that young children go to the park alone.
Some projects are doing great work to support children and parents to get the most out of playing out in green spaces, for example The Roam project in Birmingham and Wild Tots which started in Abergavenny. There’s also lots of campaigning work around safer streets. And good support and advice for when your local green space is under threat – see the National Federation for Parks and Green Spaces, Parks Community and Fields in Trust.
The challenge of accessing green space is also why it’s so important that we support children to play out safely on their doorstep, close to where they live. This can be through pavement play, play streets, safer streets and other actions to change things.