An occupational therapist says children should play outside for at least three hours a day 2 years ago

An occupational therapist says children should play outside for at least three hours a day

I am obsessed with my kids being outside.

I largely blame this on my Scandi roots, as children in Scandinavia spend a lot more time outdoors than children in Ireland do – and that is despite our long, cold winters.

Being outdoors has a ton of benefits for children, for both their physical and mental wellbeing, especially if this outdoor time is being spent engaging in free play.

However, experts are warning that this is not happening nearly enough with today's kids, and that this is, in fact, causing all sorts of problems.

According to pediatric US-based occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, children should be spending a minimum of three hours outside every day – preferably left to their own devices.

The reason, Hanscom explains, is that with the time and the freedom, kids will naturally engage in the kind of activities their bodies need, whether that's jumping or digging or spinning or hanging upside down on the monkey bars.

My biggest suggestion is just to allow time and space every day to play outdoors," Hanscom recently told CBC Radio's Calgary Eyeopener.

"I do speaking engagements all over the world. I'm hearing that people spent four to six hours of outdoor play a day 30 years ago. Now it's changed to the average response is 45 minutes to an hour and a half."

Outdoor play, she urged, is essential to developing strength, and understanding of reflexes, concentration and good balance.


Hanscom, who is the author of Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children, explains that over the years of her working with children, she has seen a dramatic shift in children's behaviour, which she attributes to a change in their play.

In her practice, kids today, in general, are much weaker than they used to be and have poorer balance, with some kids being treated clinically for not being able to stay upright in their seats and being clumsy.

"My recommendation is at least three hours of outdoor play a day and do whatever you can to just get the kids outside," Hanscom explains to CBC News in Canada.

"Kids are sitting for an average of nine hours a day now, research is saying. So they're being driven to school, sitting for hours at school. Then a lot of times they have homework, which when I was growing up was a worksheet, and then you were outside until the lights went off. And now they often have hours of homework or they're being driven from one event to another, and so they're constantly in this upright position."

This, Hanscom explains, actually affect their health negatively in so many ways.

"Inside our inner ears are little hair cells and we actually need to move in rapid directions, spin in circles. We need to go upside down and move in different ways so that fluid can move back and forth and develop our vestibular system. That sense is our balance sense and that's a key to all the other senses. So if that's not working right and we're restricting movement over and over, it can affect everything."

Today, for insurance reasons, no doubt, more and more schools are doing away with playgrounds as part of their outdoor spaces. Everything is made so 'child-proof' and non-risk that actually – it ends up being the very thing that harms out children, Hanscom thinks.

"What's happening is we're actually restricting even the movement that they can do on playgrounds during recess time," she explains.

"So we're saying you can't go on your bellies any more on the swings. They're saying it's dangerous. You can't stand on the swings, you can't jump off them, you can't spin in circles. The thing is – those are the actual movements we use in a clinic setting to actually treat children and help with sensory integration or organizing the senses. That foundation is needed so kids can pay attention in school."

What do you think, parents? Are your children spending enough time outdoors?