Free-to-access, public playgrounds are the most common places for children to play according to a new national survey from the University of Reading.  In the largest study of play in Britain, children on average spent more time playing in playgrounds than any other place.

The British Children’s Play Survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 1919 adult respondents who had a child aged 5-11 years. The survey asked parents in April 2020 to respond about normal life before Covid-19 restrictions.

Away from home and in the garden, playgrounds are the most popular spaces for outdoor play at least once a week, closely followed by green spaces, and they are also the third most adventurous place for children’s play.

The paper’s lead author, Professor Helen Dodd, says: “We can see that playgrounds and green areas are critical spaces for children’s play, particularly outdoor, adventurous play. It is therefore crucial that all children have access to spaces like these for their development and wellbeing. Providing the spaces is not enough though, urban planning must take into account how children and families will travel to and access these spaces and they need to be engaging and interesting places for children’s play.”

Chair of the Association of Play Industries (API), Mark Hardy, says: “The study confirms the essential role that public play areas have in the physical and mental health of children.  Playgrounds are vital community assets which have a significant impact on children’s health and wellbeing.  Recent years have seen a sharp decline in the number of playgrounds.  These community spaces are hugely under-funded and hundreds are disappearing.  There is now an urgent need for sustained investment in a UK-wide network of playgrounds to protect and enhance children’s health.”

Shrewsbury Town Council conducted research showing a dramatic rise in footfall in public play facilities over the course of the pandemic, demonstrating how important these assets are to children and local communities.  The SLCC, which represents the chief officers to over 5,000 town, parish and community councils, are calling on the Government to recognise the importance of play in exercise, provide financial support for shared public spaces and long-term legacy funding for parks and playgrounds.

A growing number of leading academics are also calling for children to be placed at the heart of the nation’s recovery post-pandemic, with experts calling for a ‘summer of play’.

There has never been a time when playgrounds have been so important,” says Mark. “They are key in helping children to recover from a year of restrictions which have forced them indoors. The Government’s pledges to ‘Build Back Better’ and ‘Level Up’ must include children, with investment in a sustainable national network of public play spaces before hundreds more are lost for good. For children living in the most disadvantaged areas and those in the 1 in 8 UK households without gardens, playgrounds are their lifeline.”

The API’s recent campaign shows how playgrounds are a unique public service which benefits all children and the substantial role they have in communities:

  1. For children in the 1 in 8 UK households without gardens, playgrounds are often the only outdoor space in which to play.
  2. Playgrounds are spaces created just for children – a rare thing in today’s world.
  3. Playgrounds are a free public service and open to all children.
  4. Playgrounds are the heart of communities. Just like the local shop, pub or school, playgrounds connect people every day.
  5. Playgrounds are inclusive. Children from all walks of life and all abilities play there.
  6. Children play out more when they have a playground nearby.
  7. Playgrounds help tackle childhood obesity, mental health and sleep problems.


API Campaigns

Other research findings:

  • The results show that, averaged across the year, children living in Britain in 2020 play for just over 3 hours per day, but there is huge variation between children.
  • Around half of children’s play happens outdoors.
  • Away from play at home and in the garden, playgrounds are the most common places for children to play, followed closely by green spaces.
  • The most adventurous places for play were green spaces, indoor play centres (including soft play, trampoline parks and swimming pools), followed by playgrounds and near water.
  • A significant difference was found between the age that children are now allowed out alone in comparison to the previous generation, with children now almost two years older than their parents/caregivers were when granted independent mobility.
  • A range of socio-demographic factors predicted children’s play, with the most consistent findings found for child age, parent age and parent employment status, with younger children who had younger parents who worked part-time, playing the most.
  • There was little evidence that geographical location had a substantial impact on children’s play but it was important for independent mobility, with children living in town/fringe areas and children living in Scotland allowed out alone at a younger age.
  • When parents/caregivers had more positive attitudes around children’s risk-taking in play, children spent more time playing and were able to be out of the house independently at a younger age.

Notes to Editors

The Association of Play Industries (API)  is the lead trade body within the play sector and campaigns at the highest levels for policy recognition for play. Its members are leading manufacturers, installers, designers and distributors of both outdoor and indoor play equipment and safety surfacing. Founded in 1984, the API represents 85% of the play industry.

The API operates under the umbrella of the Federation of Sports and Play Associations (FSPA), the national trade body responsible for representing Sports and Play Associations in the UK’s sport and play industries.

Media Contact

Mary Lubrano, Head of Communications.  For further comment contact Mary on e: [email protected]  m: 07999 550452