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The problem

Playing out – having the freedom to just go out the front door and play in the street or near home – is no longer a normal part of most children’s lives, as it was just a few decades ago.

Instead, children are spending more time indoors and are missing out on the all the benefits that come from this freedom: physical activity, new skills and challenges, friendships, independence, a sense of belonging to their communities, and a lot of fun.

The reasons behind this are complex but can be boiled down to two main factors: the outdoor environment and social norms.

The outdoor environment

Traffic has doubled since the 1980s. Streets are far less safe for children. Many new estates, public spaces and other developments have been designed around cars, without considering children’s needs. And spaces where children used to play – informal patches or even areas of park – are being sold off.

Social norms

Parent and child trying to cross the street

Linked to this, there has been a big shift in attitude about children playing out over one generation and parents are more fearful, especially about traffic danger, which is very real. They are also afraid of being judged or doing the wrong thing. Neighbours, drivers and other adults are no longer supporting children to be out safely as they once did.

The diagram below shows how these factors work together to make it more and more difficult to play out, contributing to some serious problems for children’s health and wellbeing.

The aim of play streets and the whole Playing Out movement is to break this vicious circle and restore playing out as a normal part of children’s lives.

Government, councils and people who design and build our cities and neighbourhoods also have a very important role to play in making our streets safer and putting children’s needs at the heart of decision-making.

Graphic showing how factors for children being less visible influence children not playing out

What is playing out?

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