The decline of preschool children’s outdoor play in the community

A total of 184 parents and 32 teachers and caretakers from Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Norway and Portugal have completed the MLO questionnaires regarding the importance of outdoor play. Children were observed using play observational grids while they were playing outside at the preschools. They were also interviewed about their play spaces after drawing them.

Today only 13.6% of preschool children play in the streets around their home everyday, whereas 69.6% of their parents did so when they were their age. The school playground remains the place where most children (81.5%) play outside everyday. The generational decline of outdoor play in the community may be a result of today’s parental perception of the society being a more hostile and less safe place for children. Although 45% of preschool children still play in the street at least once a week, the values are quite different between countries. In Norway 93.4% of children still play in streets around local area, this percentage is 51.6% in Portugal, 43.9% in Estonia, 41.9% in Croatia and 25.7% in Greece.

Besides school, local parks have an important role regarding outdoor play. Most children from Croatia (95.2%), Greece (97.2%) and Portugal (67.8%) play there at least once week. However, in Norway and Estonia the play spaces where children play at least once a week are otherwise. Besides playing most frequently at local streets, 86.6% of Norwegian children play in their own or their friends’ garden and 80% in the wild nature. Regarding Estonia, 63.4% of children play in their own or their friends’ garden.

The differences between northern and southern European countries concerning the use of the outdoor as a play space may be related with the availability of specific types of play environments and different socio-cultural perceptions regarding safety.

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