Children enjoy less time outside every day than prison inmates do in the United States. The law requires that inmates receive two hours of outdoor time daily, while fifty percent of children get outside for less than an hour. A recent survey of 12,000 parents in 10 countries, who have children aged five to 12, revealed that one-third of kids spend less than 30 minutes outside each day.
This short film demonstrates the importance of inmates having their outdoor ‘recreational’ time every day and how shocked they when they hear that children get even less. The inmates, who are held at the Wabash Valley Correctional Institute, a maximum security facility in Indiana, claim that their daily outdoors time is “probably the most important part of my day.” It’s a chance to “take all the frustration and all your problems and just leave them out there. It keeps my mind right, keeps my body strong.”
The filmmaker asked the prisoners how they would react if their yard time were reduced to just one hour a day, and they balked at the mere suggestion. “I think that’s going to build more anger. That would be torture.” One guard said it would be “potentially disastrous.” The inmates don’t know what to think when they hear that children choose so little time outdoors these days. “Wow, that is really depressing. That really is,” one says.
The survey was conducted by laundry brands OMO and Persil, which, after discovering how ridiculously sheltered children are, launched a new campaign called “Dirt is Good – Free the Children.” The U.K.-based campaign is run by Sir Ken Robinson, known for his work in the area of creativity and innovation in education, and Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the National Institute of Play. Parents can share their views on the importance of play and sign up their child’s school to Outdoor Classroom Day.
This new survey resonates with what we’ve been hearing from numerous sources – that kids are spending way too much time in the house watching screens, instead of going outside, playing with rock and sticks, using their imaginations and getting dirty. Outdoor time should be thought of as a “right” possessed by children, not something that is limited those whose parents have the “time, resources, or inclination to take them out.” Schools and governments could get involved to ensure this happens, but parents can just as easily rectify the situation themselves. It’s unfortunate that it takes a comparison to prison inmates to make us realize how little access to nature the world’s children are opting to take advantage of.
In the words of one Wabash security guard, “If you don’t have to throw the kids in the bathtub, they haven’t played hard enough.”