Children deprived of mud, fun and sandcastles

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A generation of children are spending less than half the time playing outdoors than their parents did.

The youngsters are growing up without experiencing simple outdoor pleasures such as splashing in puddles or mud, building a sandcastle or making daisy chains, a study has revealed.

Researchers found a whole range of traditional outdoor activities are becoming a thing of the past as children spend their spare time playing computer games, watching TV or just hanging out indoors with friends instead.

Playing in forests and woodland, planting their own seeds and climbing trees are also among the activities a large number of today’s youngsters have never tried.

The average child spends just under five hours a week playing outside – less than half the 11 hours a week for their parents.

David Hardy, spokesperson for the Eco Attractions group, which promotes “natural” tourism, said: “For many people, these activities made up a huge chunk of our childhood, and left us with the memories and experience of our natural world to go with it. But today’s children seem to be struggling to experience a large number of them for themselves.

“Nowadays, children have much more to keep them amused – computers and a host of TV channels and smart phones, something older generations didn’t have.

“As a result, youngsters are missing out on getting dirty in the mud and puddles or simply spending time in the fresh air.

“These traditional activities can be a great way of encouraging children to spend more time outdoors, get more exercise and create more memories than they will get from simply sitting in front of a computer or TV screen.”

The study, of 2,000 parents, revealed 35 per cent of modern children haven’t splashed in puddles to the point where they end up soaked, while another 44 per cent haven’t had the experience of walking through squelchy mud. Fewer than half have built sandcastles at the beach, 53 per cent haven’t had a picnic outside their own back garden and just 44 per cent go on bike rides with their family.

Just four in ten children have planted their own seeds to grow plants or flowers from scratch, while just over a third have helped to grow fruit and vegetables.

Animal spotting is also becoming less popular, with two- thirds of children saying they have never looked for birds and just 35 per cent searching for insects.

Even everyday activities are in decline, with just under two- thirds saying they had never flown a kite, 66 per cent claiming to have never made a daisy chain and seven in ten never going blackberry picking.

Due to the lack of snow in some areas, less than six in ten children have built a snowman while 47 per cent have never had a snowball fight. But while more than three-quarters of parents would like their children to spend more time outside, one in ten says their offspring simply don’t enjoy spending time in the great outdoors.

Given the choice, just 28 per cent of parents say their children would play outside. A quarter of parents say their youngsters would rather stay at home playing computer games or watching TV with friends.