Our recent survey of 2,000 UK parents in the UK revealed that, while 86% of parents would like their kids to play outside more often, over half (57%) admit to being plagued by safety concerns.
In response to the survey, National Accident Helpline has put together a set of advice for parents from leading experts, showing how to overcome safety concerns and get kids playing outside.
You can read the advice below, including the importance of getting kids out into natural environments from an early age and how to deal with safety concerns such as traffic and avoiding getting lost.
Six expert tips for getting kids outdoors, safely
1. Start early
When it comes to getting children outdoors safely, experts agree that starting early, and with parental supervision, is key.
Mike Murphy, Education Development Manager at the Sussex Wildlife Trust, says: "It's really important for children to learn life lessons about nature as a toddler, when outings are managed by parents or a teacher. Then, later, they'll be familiar with the risks."
Professor of Childhood Education at Trondheim's Queen Maud University College Ellen Sandseter agrees. "It's so much better if children have experiences from a younger age - that's when they learn the most. Learning about nature from play situations can start from about age one."
2. Prioritise road safety
When it comes to traffic, educating children from an early age is once again vital, says Sandseter. "Teach children how to deal with the traffic as you walk with them, and regularly involve them in the assessment of dangers - it's a gradual thing.
"It's also important to teach children about the dangers in their specific neighbourhood," she adds.
Murphy emphasises the importance of modelling road safety so that children follow suit. "You need to model the way you should cross the road," he explains.
"It's all about repeat exposure to these kinds of risks, while the parent it there to guide and educate the child."
3. Establish imaginary boundaries
In natural, outdoor environments, the lack of clear boundaries can lead to parents fearing their child will wander off and get lost.
According to Sandseter, it can help to agree imaginary borders, such as a tree or a rock that marks the edge of where the child can play.
“Talk to the children and explain why it's important for you to know where they are. Say: “You're allowed to play where you want, but don't go behind that tree or that stone or that lake,” she explains.
Murphy agrees that natural objects can help with orientation: “It can help to identify meeting points, like: ‘we'll meet you at the fallen tree', he adds.
4. Supervise outings
Regularly accompanying children on outdoor adventures is the backbone of building children's confidence from a young age, experts advise.
"One of the key messages we try to get across is that adults should regularly take kids out to their local woods, local beach or river," says Murphy.
"Over time, it becomes a safe place for the adult and the child, because you know where you can build a den, climb on a fallen tree or jump in a stream. The more you can negotiate that, the better equipped you are to deal with those situations."
Sandseter agrees: "When children are small, parents should come with the children, get used to that outdoor environment themselves.
"Join the children out in nature to experience the same thing. Then, bit by bit, let them get their freedom."
5. Pack essentials
When it comes to packing for an adventure, experts agree that common sense rules.
While you might not need a full first aid kit, supplies like plasters can be useful, says Murphy. "If you're taking kids cycling it can be handy to have plasters, particularly if they go over and graze their knees."
Other useful items can include sun lotion, waterproofs, extra layers in case of cold weather, and refreshments.
6. Find local nature spots
If you think you don't have any natural areas nearby, think again. "In any urban places, there are still pockets of woodland, meadows and ponds," says Murphy. Here are his top tips on finding nature to explore nearby:
- Ordnance Survey Maps can reveal footpaths that take you to local, natural environments
- The Wildlife Trust website offers a postcode tool to help find nature reserves in your area
- Use the Woodland Trust‘s website to find all the wooded areas in your neighbourhood