Families Living for the Weekend as they Embrace the Great Outdoors

Children are now spending more time outside for the first time in recent years, a new survey has revealed – with families living for the weekend and using school holidays to embrace the great outdoors. A whopping 96% of families now say that they make a concerted effort to spend as much time outside together as possible in their free time – making up for busy weekdays at school and work with countryside walks and fun days out.

Despite some Government reports* suggesting that children simply don’t get outside enough in 2018, the survey of over 1,000 parents, commissioned by award-winning Devon adventure attraction, River Dart Country Park, revealed a positive shift in attitudes - with more than half (55%) of all school-age children now getting outside for at least an hour a day in their free time and a further third (36%) racking up several hours or more of daily outdoor play.

When asked what the driving force was behind encouraging their offspring to get more fresh air, the majority (40%) said that improved wellbeing was a crucial benefit they couldn’t afford to miss out on. With growing scientific evidence to support the fact that time spent outdoors is beneficial for mental health and an academic study** finding that just five minutes of “green exercise” for children can produce rapid improvements in mental wellbeing and self-esteem, it’s clear that parents are now placing just as much importance on their children’s mental health as they are the physical.
Despite the good news, there has still been a decline in outdoor time when compared with previous generations, with 54% of parents polled confessing that their children spend far less time playing outside than they themselves did as youngsters.

Nearly half (46%) of parents cite the rise of smartphones and tablets amongst school-aged children for the decline in outdoor activity, concluding that the draw of communicating and playing games online is distracting their children from more traditional open-air hobbies such as bike riding, tree climbing and playing sports.

But although the digital world may be tempting children to stay indoors more and more, it’s not the only reason outdoors pastimes are decreasing, with 28% of parents polled also admitting that growing safety concerns made them reluctant to let their offspring play out in the open. In true British spirit, only 11% of parents blamed bad weather for the decline – proving that UK families still refuse to be put off a day out by a bit of rain.

When asked what might encourage children to bump up their outdoor playtime even further, a whopping 62% of parents polled believed that the option of more fun family activities to choose from would do the trick – proof that embracing the great outdoors together is seen to be more enjoyable than going it alone.

Mark Simpson, Managing Director at River Dart Country Park, said: “There are countless benefits to spending time outdoors, and it’s great to see that families, particularly children, are starting to get out there a bit more again. We encourage families, regardless of where they live, to explore the world around them and get outdoors as much as they can. A family activity outdoors, or a child playing out with friends need not be relegated to holidays or times gone by!

"We still see lots of families enjoying themselves at the park throughout the year, which is encouraging – whether it’s going for a long walk or bike ride and learning a bit about nature along the way or having a go on our adventure playgrounds. There are so many ways to enjoy the great British countryside. Wrap up warm and go prepared, there’s no need to ever let the elements put you off!”

Four fun ways to embrace the great outdoors as a family
Mark Simpson, River Dart Country Park, says there are plenty of ways that families can include more outdoor time together in their day to day lives.

Organise a pebble hunt
“We’ve seen lots of parents and children doing pebble hunts at the park lately. A great excuse to get those creative juices flowing as well as getting active and into the great outdoors, they can be hours of fun for all the family. Choose a rainy day to get arty with some pebble painting at home, then hide them out and about when the weather brightens up for children to find. Choose a local park or nature reserve, or even your back garden – it’s the type of activity you can take with you anywhere.

Cycle to school
“If squeezing in outdoor time around school and work is a struggle, a new approach to the school run could be the answer. Try swapping the car for bikes and riding there and back as a family – it’s a great way to exercise and get some fresh air into your daily routine, promising better concentration and improved resilience to stress – not just for the children, but for you, too.”

Set a daily step challenge
“A bit of healthy competition is enough to get most people motivated, so why not get the activity trackers on, set a daily step goal for the family and find ways to achieve it together? Whether it’s kicking a ball around the garden, strolling to the corner shop or going for a longer walk in the countryside, there are numerous ways you can build some extra outdoor activity into your day – and you can fit it around your schedule so that it works just as well during the week, too.”

Immerse yourselves in nature
“For those days when you have a little more time to spare, head for a green space like a forest, park or the moors. Take a walk, pack a picnic and see what nature you can spot along the way – it’s a great chance to learn about the flora and fauna, as well as the and local wildlife.”