The study published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development, indicates that children, aged 5-11, who spent more time playing outside had fewer “internalising problems”, characterised as anxiety and depression. Those children were also more positive during the first lockdown.
“We are more concerned than ever about children`s mental health, and our findings highlight that we might be able to help protect children`s mental health by ensuring they have plentiful opportunities for adventurous play,” said researcher Helen Dodd from the University of Exeter, who led the study.
“This is really positive because play is free, instinctive and rewarding for children, available to everyone, and does not require special skills. We now urgently need to invest in and protect natural spaces, well-designed parks and adventure playgrounds, to support the mental health of our children,” Dodd added.
The researchers said that the study sought to test theories that adventurous play offers learning opportunities that help build resilience in children, thereby helping to prevent mental health problems.
For the study, the research team surveyed nearly 2,500 parents of children aged 5-11 years. Parents completed questions about their child`s play, their general mental health (pre-Covid) and their mood during the first Covid-19 lockdown.
The research was carried out with two groups of parents, a group of 427 parents living in Northern Ireland and a nationally representative group of 1,919 parents living in the UK.
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