Is Active Play Extinct?

Posted on Tuesday March 26, 2013 at 03:37PM

Source: 2012 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity and Youth


It comes in many forms, but is generally freely chosen, spontaneous, self-directed and fun. Play allows children and youth of all agest to try new things, test boundaries, learn from their mistakes and, perhaps most importantly, enjoy being active. And while active play is fun, it's certainly not frivolous. One Ontario study showed that preschoolers who play outdoors for at least 2 hours a day were far more likely meet phyical activity guidelines. Play has aslo been shown to foster and improve:

  • Motor function
  • Creativity
  • Decision making
  • Problem solving
  • Executive functions-the ability to control and direct one's emotions and behaviors
  • Social skills-sharing, taking turns, helping others, resolving conflict
  • Speech (in preschoolers)

Unfortunately, the structure and demands of modern canadain life may be engineering active play out of our children's lives. Perhaps in a misguided bid to protect and direct them at all times, Canadian kids have lost the freedom to throw open doors and go play. Researchers agree that the decline of play over the past 50 or 60 years has been consistent and substantial:

  • The proportion of Canadian kids who play outside after school dropped 14% over the last decade
  • 46% of Canadian kids get 3 hours or less of active play per week including weekends.
  • Canadian kids are not playing actively in their 'free' time. At lunch and after school, kids are getting only 24 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity out of a possible 4 hours.

While current crime rates in Canda are about equal to what they were in the 1970's, the increase in news coverage of crime has fuelled parental fears of letting their children outside. 82% of mothers cite safty concerns and almost half of parents cite fear of exposure to child predators as reasons they restrict outdoor play. 58% of Canadian agree they are very concerned about keeping their children safe and feel they have to be overprotective in this world.

Unfortunately, over-protective parenting plus the lure of ever-present technology, is driving kids into highly controlled environments, where they have little opportunity to let loose, run around, build, explore and interact with peers on their own terms.

  • On weekends, when kids should have abundant free time, kids are less active than on weekdays.
  • Canadian kids spend 63% of their free time after school and on weekends, being sedentary.
  • Instead of playing outdoors, Canadian kids in Grades 6 to 12 are spending 7 hours and 48 minutes per day in front of screens.

Even at school, recess is increasingly being threatened by adult beliefs that this 'free time' is better spent in academic study. Not only is there value in this free time, it's what kids want:

  • In one global study, playing with friends was the single favorite pastime of kids around the world
  • 92% of Canadian children said they would choose playing with friends over watching TV
  • Given the choice, 74% of Canadian kids in Grades 4 to 6 would choose to do soemthing active after school, with 31% choosing to play with their friends at the playground.

Supporting and encouraging opportunities for safe, free, unstructured play, especially outdoors, may be one of the most promising, accessible and cost effective solutions to increasing child and youth physical activity in Canada.

How to Press "PLAY"

Recommendations for increasing opportunities for active play

Early Years:

  • Provide access to safe, open areas, either indoors or out, where kids can move freely.
  • Add balls and toys to encourage more vigorous play at home, and in childcare and community settings.
  • Get down on the floor and play with them!

School-Age Children:

  • Provide access to fields, nature, skipping ropes, balls and equipment to facilitate active play.
  • To counter safety concerns, parents and caregivers can take turns supervising kids at play in the park or on the block, encourage kids to play outside with a buddy and consider street-proofing courses.


  • Accept that tweens and teens need free time to play without the assumption that they are "up to no good".
  • Increase youth-friendly play spaces where youth can hang out and direct their own activities.

Kids of all Ages:

  • If your child has no free time, consider reducing the number of scheduled activities.
  • To increase neighborhood safety, advocates for traffic calming measures such as speed bumps and roundabouts, which have been shown to decrease vehicle accidents.
  • To reduce screen time, encourage time spent outdoors, every day instead of in front of TV or video games.


Author: Town of Oxbow


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