How many hours a day should a child play outside?

I was recently tagged in a post for a blog 1000 hours outside  knowing how James and I like to spend time outside.  The blog is about a family trying to spend 4 – 6 hours outside at least 3 – 4 times a week.  It got me thinking about much time I actually spend outside with James and although from my photos it may look like we are always outside, it actually doesn’t amount to that much.

Typically if we go somewhere in the morning and then the afternoon we are probably only outside for 1 – 1 1/2 hours at a time.  We usually come home for lunch and then go back out after he has had a nap.  However, we are rarely outside before and after lunch unless the weather is really good, and we have toddler groups to attend or swimming on some mornings.  We recently visited Westonbirt Arboretum with some friends and I worked out that there we probably spent nearly 5 hours outside that day.  It was great fun and we all had a good time, but the weather was glorious which made this a lot easier to do.  We took packed lunches and I also took the pushchair so when James did get tired he could have a sit down, but on the whole he ran around for most of the time.

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I am not quite sure how I would spend 4-6 hours outside with James at least 3 – 4 times a week.  I think it’s a wonderful idea but in reality how practical is it for the average family?  I am a stay at home mum so in theory I could do it, but it wouldn’t be an easy thing to achieve, and for working parents this would be an impossible task.  James often doesn’t want to spend hours at the places we go to, he is great at running around and finding things to keep him entertained but for 4 – 6 hours it would be pushing it.  In fact it would be pushing it for me too, because after so long running after James it is actually tiring for myself too.

Then there is actually thinking where to go to spend 4 – 6 hours outside. It would need to be places which are big and have a lot to do or a lot to explore, and these places often cost money, money that most families don’t actually have to spend on that many days out, I know we certainly don’t.  I know there are plenty of free outdoor places to visit, but would they really keep children entertained for 4 – 6 hours 3 – 4 times a week?  I keep a mental list of good places to visit with James that we are either members for, or that are free, and it is often hard rotating them so we don’t always visit the same places too frequently.  Then if you go further afield you have to think about the cost of petrol and the time taken to get to these places.

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The British weather also doesn’t always lend itself to spending a lot of time outside, with it often being cold and damp.  I know the Norwegians say there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing, and they do have a point, but I would prefer to spend time outside in the freezing dry winters in Norway than the horrible damp winters in the UK.  There is something about British weather that can be so miserable, cold and damp.  Don’t get me wrong, we do have some lovely days and on those days I would happily spend a lot of time outside, and so would James.  On the cold damp days though, he is very quick to get annoyed if he is too cold or too wet and then it’s no fun for either of us.

I love being outside with James and think we both benefit from it.  However, to expect parents to spend 4 – 6 hours outside with their children 3 – 4 times a week is just unrealistic and an added pressure that parents really don’t need.  I try to aim to give James some outdoor play everyday, providing the weather isn’t too bad, but this isn’t always possible.  I think children can learn a lot from playing outside and I think the fresh air is healthy, but I also think children can learn a lot from playing inside too, and from watching TV or playing on a tablet.  I think the key is variety and to do what works best for individual children and families.  I find it easier to entertain James outside and we both enjoy it, but if he didn’t we would probably spend a lot more time indoors and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

Take a look at the new page on my website Places to Visit for some of my favourite places to visit with James near Gloucestershire.

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