Walking The Dog: Barriers to Children’s Play

In this post from of our Parents 4 Play series, we're discussing what the barriers to children's opportunities for play can be and whether we should be challenging these barriers with consideration of changes in lifestyle and social behaviours. 

When I was eight years old my parents moved from London to South Devon. I remember it being a big change in my life, the main one being having to leave my friends on the street with whom I played with most days….. riding our bikes in the street, playing knock out ginger or exploring the derelict house next door.  I don’t really remember any adults on the street apart from the ones that got cross because we had knocked on their doors and run away!
Image: Boys playing leapfrog in the street, London, England, 1953

When we arrived at our new house it was much bigger than our last one and had a massive garden but there were hardly any other children to play with.  I made friends with the boy next door, which was good but it wasn’t the same as my old life in London.  One really good thing about moving house though was having regular access to a large woodland and two small coves…. I could and did literally spend all day in the woods, in my free time by myself creating secret spaces tucked away that no one else knew about…. I would also be equally attracted to the small coves and could regularly be seen down there happily smashing rocks up with my geological hammer in the hope of finding a huge nodule of amethyst or rare volcanic glass – obsidian.  Before long it was like I had always lived there, London being a distant happy memory.

My parents still live in the same house now and I regularly visit them with my own children enjoying and sharing the sea, coves and woodland that I enjoyed.  

On a recent visit I was taking my parents dogs for their constitutional walk one afternoon.  As I was walking up from the cove, in the woodland I came across an eight year boy by himself who was quite happily playing. In the first instance my professional head questioned and scrutinised the situation…
Who is he here with? Why is he alone… has something happened? Is he ok, should I intervene in some way?

Then my rational head responded…
This is where I played when I was eight, by myself, all day at times.  I’m a playworker, I understand the importance and value of play as well of the benefits…. What’s changed?

But this situation felt different, almost kind of weird to me because I felt bad for even thinking something was wrong for a child to play alone in the woods by themselves….

I had been challenged against the very principles I advocate strongly for…. I stood for a moment contemplating all of this…. initially blaming fundamental society principles, then realised I was part of society now….. and then carried on with my walk leaving the boy to whatever he was doing. 

In this video children discuss what they like about play and some of the barriers that affect this

Should barriers to children’s play be challenged?

We believe that they should. Playwork Principle 4 states that “For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when dealing with adult led agendas.” Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group (2005)

Children today face many more barriers to playing out than in previous generations… consequently lots of things have changed for children’s play, having a direct impact on their development and well-being.

·         More traffic on the road
71% of adults played in the street or an area near their home when they were a child. This compares to only 21% of children today.
            Play Day Research (2007) Street Play Opinion Poll

·         Technology advances beyond the ZX81
British children are estimated to spend between five and six hours a day on screen-based entertainment. During this time they’re not engaging in the outdoor, loosely-supervised play that has been children’s birth right for millennia. So it’s not just too much screen-gazing that poses a danger to overall development, but the substitution of this junk play for real play with real people in the real world.
Palmer S (2003) Toxic Childhood
·         Parents increasing concerns about stranger danger
A BBC survey in Scotland which looked at public concerns…. Results showed that although child murders by strangers has shown no change in twenty years, 76% of parents believed that there had been an increase with 38% believing the increase had been dramatic.
Furedi F (2001) Paranoid Parenting  

·         Less spaces for children to play
For every acre of land given over to public playgrounds, over 80 acres are given over to golf.
Children’s Play Council (2004)  

·         Children leading more sedentary lifestyles creating various health concerns and epidemics
There is an obesity epidemic in young children and the main solution should be to ‘reduce television viewing’ and promote playing.
British Medical Journal (2001) 322:3 13-314 

·         Less free time for children to play from increased pressure to do well at school.
Professor Alexanders’ review of primary education (the largest in 40 years) revealed a worrying loss of childhood, from pressures to pass tests and league tables.
Alexander R (2008) Emerging perspectives on childhood

Playing helps children to explore and understand the world around them and is an integral factor in development and well-being. 

Scrapstore Play Services offers a range of playwork training courses for parents, early years practitioners and lunchtime staff about the importance of play for children .

Phone us on 0117 9143002

  • Think of a memory of play that you enjoyed doing as a child
  • What key factors made that memory stand out
  • Imagine children doing that sort of play today - What’s different?
There are lots of things that you can do to make a difference and advocate for children’s rights to play. 
  • Give permission to play out on the street in your community: Playing Out is a not-for-profit information and advice resource for street play. We aim to increase children’s safe access to informal play in residential streets through: Directly supporting resident-led street play sessions; http://playingout.net/      
  • Encourage schools to open up their grounds out of hours: The play team at Children’s Scrapstore have been working with schools and early years settings delivering play training, research and consultancy since 2007. www.playpods.co.uk
  • Make the most of the local facilities via your local council: Bristol City Council have a useful website detailing the local facilities and play events happening in the city. http://www.goplacestoplay.org.uk/
  • Find out about campaigns and movements that support children’s rights to play: The National Trust have recently launched a campaign of 50 things to do before your 11 ¾.  https://www.50things.org.uk/
  • Love Outdoor Play is led by Play England and supported by the Free Time Consortium, a growing collective of local and specialist organisations working together to increase freedom to play.


  1. Superb, cogent clear exposition of a key aspect of playwork that is increasingly marginalised, sidelined or just denied by many employers and organisations that should know better.

    Two points, if I may:


    Please add this link to your list:



    An exhortation to all my playwork chums (and mice elf):

    This is (part of ) your duty as a playworker. What are you going to do about it?

    If you tell me that your employer won't let you, then I shall simply repeat: what are you going to do?

    You have a life away from work, don't you? You have a computer and a phone and feet, don't you? Don't be part of the problem, be part of the solution, to quote the 70s, or as the eighteenth century Irish statesman, philosopher and political theorist, Edmund Burke, said: "evil prevails when good men do nothing".

    Again, thank you to who ever wrote this. Who are you? Is that Dan? Please tell us, don't be shy, I want to put you on my Xmas card list.

  2. Hi
    Firstly thank you for your compliments and feedback on this blog and delighted that people are reading them! I have added the web link reference onto the blog.

    Writing blogs has been a relatively new concept for all of us within the Play Team, four blogs and counting! …. In the first instance we weren’t really sure how to create a tangible format so tentatively approached the writing collaboratively. This involved four of us sitting round a table throwing ideas and experiences and stories until we came up with something that we thought would provoke discussion.

    Feeling confident from this point, we became more independent bringing drafts to weekly meetings for critique and comment, which seemed to work well as one voice enticed the reader within the direct experience so to speak. In a way, I am pleased to say that this is my story that I drafted, based on my real experiences but in another way I am not sure that this blog would have developed into what it is without the on-going collaborative working approach we adopted from the outset.


  3. Hey Dan
    Happy New Year to you and the team. I enjoyed reading this and your other recent articles, thank You!
    I like the fact it is well rounded, not just talking about the hot topic of screen time, you discuss the other barriers to play.
    I also like the fact you offer solutions, anecdotal advice and resources for further support.
    I think you and the team have so much information and experience you will have a wealth of future blogs!

    Hope to catch up with you guys again this year.

    Keep going with the blog!



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