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The problem

Playing out – the freedom to 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 used to be.

Instead, children are spending far more time indoors and 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 in the UK 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. Open public spaces where children play – informal patches or even areas of park – are seen as “under-used” and sold off or privatised. Overall, the space available for children to play near home is both diminishing and becoming less safe.

Social norms

Parent and child trying to cross the street

Linked to this, there has been a big shift in attitudes about children playing out. Parents are more fearful, especially about traffic danger, which is very real. They are also afraid of being judged or doing the wrong thing. Other adults and authorities 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.

There are also many other ways that parents and individuals can take action to help push back and change things for children.

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 planning and decision-making. Housing providers can also have a huge positive impact on children’s lives by developing and implementing pro-play policies that ensure children are able to play out where they live.

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

What is playing out?

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