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A diverse, cross-sectorial group of partners, stakeholders and researchers, collaborated to develop an evidence-informed Position Statement on active outdoor play for children aged 3–12 years. The Position Statement was created in response to practitioner, academic, legal, insurance and public debate, dialogue and disagreement on the relative benefits and harms of active (including risky) outdoor play. The Position Statement development process was informed by two systematic reviews, a critical appraisal of the current literature and existing position statements, engagement of research experts (N = 9) and cross-sectorial individuals/organizations (N = 17), and an extensive stakeholder consultation process (N = 1908). More than 95% of the stakeholders consulted strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the Position Statement; 14/17 participating individuals/organizations endorsed it; and over 1000 additional individuals and organizations requested their name be listed as a supporter. The final Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play states: “Access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its risks— is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings—at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.” The full Position Statement provides context for the statement, evidence supporting it, and a series of recommendations to increase active outdoor play opportunities to promote healthy child development.
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Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12, 6475-6505; doi:10.3390/ijerph120606475
International Journal of
Environmental Research and
Public Health
ISSN 1660-4601
Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play
Mark S. Tremblay 1,2,3,*, Casey Gray 1, Shawna Babcock 4,†, Joel Barnes 1,
Christa Costas Bradstreet 5,†, Dawn Carr 6,†, Guylaine Chabot 7, Louise Choquette 8,†,
David Chorney 9,†, Cam Collyer 10,†, Susan Herrington 11,†, Katherine Janson 5, Ian Janssen 12,†,
Richard Larouche 1, William Pickett 13,†, Marlene Power 14,†, Ellen Beate Hansen Sandseter 15,†,
Brenda Simon 16,† and Mariana Brussoni 17
1 Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
Research Institute, 401 Smyth Road, Ottawa, Ontario, K1H 8L1, Canada;
E-Mails: casgray@cheo, (C.G.); (J.B.); (R.L.)
2 Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, University of Ottawa,
401 Smyth Road, Ottawa, Ontario, K1H 8L1, Canada
3 School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, 125 University Private, Ottawa, Ontario,
K1N 1A2, Canada
4 KidActive, 559A, Burtron Lane, Combermere, Ontario, K0J 1L0, Canada;
5 ParticipACTION, 77 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1M2, Canada;
E-Mails: (C.C.B.); (K.J.)
6 Canadian Parks Council, 455 Hunter Street West, Peterborough, Ontario, K9H 2M7, Canada;
7 Evaluation Platform on Obesity Prevention, Quebec Heart and Lung Research Institute,
Laval University, 2725 Chemin Ste-Foy, Québec City, Québec, G1V 4G5, Canada;
8 Best Start Resource Centre—Health Nexus, 180 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1Z8,
Canada; E-Mail:
9 PHE Canada, 301-2197 Riverside Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1H 7X3, Canada;
10 Evergreen, 550 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3X8, Canada;
11 School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of British Columbia,
379-2357 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia, B6T 1Z4, Canada;
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6476
12 Department of Public Health Sciences, School of Kinesiology and Health Studies,
Queen’s University, 99 University Avenue, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 2P5, Canada;
13 Department of Public Health Sciences, Carruthers Hall, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario,
K7L 2P5, Canada; E-Mail:
14 Forest School Canada, Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, 411 Corkstown Road, Ottawa,
Ontario, K2K 2Y1, Canada; E-Mail:
15 Department of Physical Education and Health, College of Early Childhood Education,
Queen Maud University, Thrond Nergaardsvei 7, NO-7044 Trondheim, Norway;
16 PLAYbynature, 226 Albany Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M5R 3C6, Canada;
17 British Columbia Injury Research & Prevention Unit, Department of Pediatrics,
School of Population & Public Health, Child & Family Research Institute, British Columbia
Children’s Hospital, University of British Columbia, , F511-4480 Oak Street, Vancouver, British
Columbia, V6H 3V4, Canada; E-Mail:
These authors contributed equally to this work.
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail:;
Tel.: +1-613-737-7600; Fax: +1-613-738-4800.
Academic Editor: William Toscano
Received: 22 April 2015 / Accepted: 29 May 2015 / Published: 8 June 2015
Abstract: A diverse, cross-sectorial group of partners, stakeholders and researchers,
collaborated to develop an evidence-informed Position Statement on active outdoor play
for children aged 3–12 years. The Position Statement was created in response to
practitioner, academic, legal, insurance and public debate, dialogue and disagreement on
the relative benefits and harms of active (including risky) outdoor play. The Position
Statement development process was informed by two systematic reviews, a critical
appraisal of the current literature and existing position statements, engagement of research
experts (N = 9) and cross-sectorial individuals/organizations (N = 17), and an extensive
stakeholder consultation process (N = 1908). More than 95% of the stakeholders consulted
strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the Position Statement; 14/17 participating
individuals/organizations endorsed it; and over 1000 additional individuals and
organizations requested their name be listed as a supporter. The final Position Statement on
Active Outdoor Play states: “Access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its
risks— is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s
opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings—at home, at school, in child
care, the community and nature.” The full Position Statement provides context for the
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6477
statement, evidence supporting it, and a series of recommendations to increase active
outdoor play opportunities to promote healthy child development.
Keywords: physical activity; health promotion; risk taking; safety; injury; playground
1. Introduction
There is global concern over the progressive trend towards lifestyles that are conducive to the
promotion of non-communicable diseases [1,2]. Childhood obesity and inactivity are prominently
featured in this challenge, requiring solutions that take a life-course approach, emphasizing the
importance of cumulative physical, social and cultural exposures [1–5]. The prevalence of childhood
obesity worldwide is at an all-time high and increasing [6]. The proportion of children around the
world meeting physical activity guidelines is very low and likely declining [7,8]. This is troubling as
physical activity and sedentary behaviour habits formed during childhood tend to track over time into
adulthood [9,10]. The decreased opportunity for, and prioritization of, childhood healthy active living
and active outdoor play has been positioned as a child rights concern [11]. The issue is of sufficient
urgency that the Director General of the World Health Organization recently established a Commission on
Ending Childhood Obesity to provide recommendations for preventing and managing childhood obesity in
a variety of contexts around the world [12,13]. Finding strategies to promote healthy child development
through the prevention of obesity and inactivity are required. Approaches that are accessible, acceptable,
culturally adaptable, feasible, cost-effective, and scalable are a priority worldwide.
Healthy child development is influenced by many individual, family, school, community, political
and global factors that interact over time [14]. Several substantive societal changes have occurred
across these levels of influence in recent years, including where and how children spend their
discretionary time. For example, there is empirical, observational and intuitive evidence that children
today play outside less than their parents did and that children’s play has become more structured and
occurs increasingly indoors [15–22]. Reported levels of screen time in developed countries suggest that
sedentary indoor time is high amongst most children and youth today [17–21,23,24]. Canadian children
now spend an average of 8.6 hours per day sedentary [25]. The lure of the indoors has beenfueled by
improvements in indoor climate control and increased entertainment temptations (e.g., television,
computers, electronic games, tablets, cell phones) [26], as well as concerns for child safety [16,17,27,28].
This drift from time spent outdoors to increased time spent indoors has occurred concurrent with the
childhood obesity and inactivity crisis, and parental expectations surrounding child protection.
Academic debate and public discussion about the relative benefits and harms of active outdoor play
is captured in ubiquitous stories, blogs, and articles about climbing trees, tobogganing safety,
sun-safety, playground safety, appropriate age and level of supervision of free-range children,
and social norms around acceptable distances children can wander/roam unsupervised. Some argue
that we have become an excessively risk averse society, to the extent that we have limited essential
learning and developmental opportunities for children, while also reducing their physical activity and
increasing sedentary behaviours. Others believe that safety guidelines and standards, child protection
services and contemporary use of the precautionary principle have improved healthy child development
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6478
through injury prevention and a reduction in exposure to harm. This debate is active in the published
literature [29–32]. The 2012 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card extolled the benefits of
self-directed active outdoor play [18] while the Canadian Paediatric Society Position Statement on
preventing playground injuries recommends active supervision [33]. The debate is often polarized and
supporting evidence selectively cited. Fears of legal and/or insurance consequences often motivate
decision-makers to default to elimination of risks or what has been called surplus safety [34]. However,
recent efforts in Canada [35] and England [36] have promoted a more balanced approach to risk and safety
in childhood by bringing divergent professions in the area of health promotion together through reasoned
argument and debate, as opposed to polarizing confrontations. Ungar noted that parents are not swayed by
statistics indicating that their communities are safe and that there is a low likelihood of adverse outcomes
from being outdoors [37]. Rather, most parents are motivated to reduce their control and supervision and
increase their willingness to allow children’s age-appropriate risk-taking and responsibility when they are
persuaded that their actions place their child at a disadvantage.
The underlying premise that the indoors is safer than the outdoors however may be misguided in light of
the potential harms of the internet (e.g., violence, cyber-bullying, on-line predators, pornography),
unnecessary incidental eating prompted by advertisements or convenience, reduced physical activity and
even the hazards of indoor air [38–43]. Regardless, there is a need for a balanced review of the evidence
and a coming together of relevant stakeholders to agree upon an evidence-informed foundation from
which responsible initiatives can emanate to promote healthy child development. To address this need
a group of researchers and Canadian organizations (paper authors) agreed to work together to create a
Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play informed by the research literature, expert consensus and
practitioner experience. It is recognized that lack of a common understanding and use of key terms can
complicate this debate. For example, risk is often interpreted as a bad thing, yet exposure to risk has
been shown to be essential for healthy child development [32,44–48]. Consequently, operational
definitions of key terms used in, and related to, the Position Statement are provided in Table 1.
Table 1. Operational definitions of key terms.
Term Operational Definition
Active Outdoor Play
Active outdoor play, sometimes referred to as active free-play or self-directed play is
defined here as, “unstructured physical activity that takes place outdoors in the
child’s free time [16].”
Physical or mental damage or injury: something that causes someone or something to
be hurt, broken, made less valuable or successful [49]
Hazard/ Danger
A source of harm that is not obvious to the child, such that the potential for injury is
hidden [32,47]. The potential for injury can be immediate or long term.
A source of danger [50]
“‘Hyper-parenting,’ ‘invasive parenting,’ or ‘intensive parenting,’ in which a climate
of ‘inflated risk’ leads parents to micromanage all aspects of their children’s lives in
an effort to protect the child from adverse experiences” [48].
“Parents attempt to become experts on optimal parenting strategies, and child health
and development so as to ensure that their children achieve their full potential” [51].
“A variety of different types of highly involved parents (from ‘‘helicopter parents’’
to ‘‘tiger moms’’)” [52]
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6479
Table 1. Cont.
Term Operational Definition
Joint and Several
Liability Reform
Joint and Several Liability is a legal principle that permits the injured party in a tort
action to recover the entire amount of compensation due for injuries from any
tortfeasor who is able to pay, regardless of the degree of that party’s negligence [53].
Entities that are often viewed as those with the greatest amount of liability insurance
are seeking reform to this principle so that the amount they pay towards an injured
party directly correlates with the degree to which they were negligent.
Natural Environments
Environments that include natural elements such as plants, soil, and water.
These may be human made (e.g., gardens, nature playgrounds and urban parks) or
wild and naturally occurring (e.g., wooded areas, meadows and beaches).
“The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the
landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or
human creations” [54].
Physical Activity “Any body movement produced by skeletal muscles resulting in a substantial
increase over resting energy expenditure” [55].
Public Entities Municipal governments, regional governments, local economic development legal
entities or authorities, sectorial representative organizations.
Risky Play
Thrilling and exciting play that can include the possibility of physical injury.
Types of risky play include play at height, speed, near dangerous elements (e.g.,
water, fire), with dangerous tools, rough and tumble play (e.g., play fighting), and
where there is the potential for disappearing or getting lost [44,56,57].
Sedentary Behaviour “Any waking activity characterized by an energy expenditure 1.5 metabolic
equivalents and a sitting or reclining posture” [58].
This initiative represents a robust, comprehensive, transparent, multi-disciplinary effort to examine
the evidence linking active outdoor play, including risky play, to the promotion of healthy active living
among Canadian children. The purpose of this paper is to describe the process used to develop the
Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play and present, explain, substantiate and discuss the final
Position Statement.
2. Methods
The development and release of the Position Statement included securing funding, the completion
of two systematic literature reviews, the establishment of a multi-disciplinary consensus group,
an extensive stakeholder survey and consultation process, an opportunity for supportive stakeholders to
be acknowledged, a comprehensive media, public relations and communication plan, a coordinated
dissemination strategy, and proactive planning for follow-up action.
This project was initiated by the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO; at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute.
Funding for the systematic reviews was secured through a research grant from The Lawson Foundation
and an internal prioritization of funds within HALO. Funding and in-kind support for the development
of the Position Statement was provided by The Lawson Foundation, HALO, the KidActive—Healthy
Kids, Communities and Outdoors grant from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6480
Healthy Communities Fund (HCF) Program Stream, and ParticipACTION. All participating
individuals and organizations also provided in-kind support for the development, dissemination and
promotion of the Position Statement.
Two systematic reviews were undertaken to help inform the Position Statement. Both systematic
reviews were registered with the international prospective register of systematic reviews PROSPERO
network (registration nos. CRD42014009307 and CRD42014006838) and followed the PRISMA
statement for reporting systematic reviews [59]. The reviews investigated the evidence on:
(1) the relationship between outdoor time and physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and physical
fitness in children [43] and (2) the relationship between risky outdoor play and health in children [46].
A small Steering Committee with representatives from each of the project funders was formed to
identify individuals and organizations to form a multi-disciplinary consensus group. The final
participants in the consensus group and their home organizations are presented Table 2. The consensus
group met for 2 days in January, 2015, at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto where results of the
systematic reviews were presented, other research evidence was discussed, the content for the
Position Statement was determined, plans for a stakeholder consultation survey were initiated,
and initial communications and dissemination strategies were formulated. Immediately following the
consensus group meeting Katherine Janson, Casey Gray and Mark Tremblay created an initial draft of
the Position Statement that was circulated to the group. After multiple iterations and revisions,
consensus (defined a priori as 75% agreement) was achieved on a draft Position Statement for the
stakeholder consultation. The draft Position Statement was translated into French and the translation
was verified by Guylaine Chabot, Louise Choquette and Richard Larouche.
Table 2. Position Statement development consensus group.
Consensus Group
Participant Sector Home Organization
Mark Tremblay (Chair) Physical activity research HALO (
Casey Gray (Project
Manager) Physical activity research HALO (
Shawna Babcock Healthy children and
communities KidActive (
Mariana Brussoni Risk and safety research University of British Columbia (
Dawn Carr Parks Canadian Parks Council (
Guylaine Chabot Community health research Laval University (
Louise Choquette Early childhood development Health Nexus (
David Chorney Outdoor Education PHE Canada (
Cam Collyer Green cities Evergreen (
Christa Costas Bradstreet Public health ParticipACTION (
Shannon Devane * Municipal insurance OMEX (
Pamela Fuselli * Injury prevention Parachute (
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6481
Table 2. Cont.
Consensus Group
Participant Sector Home Organization
Susan Herrington Landscape architecture
University of British Columbia
Katherine Janson Health communications ParticipACTION (
Ian Janssen Physical activity research Queen’s University
Richard Larouche Active transportation
research HALO (
Claire LeBlanc * Pediatrician Canadian Paediatric Society (
Will Pickett Injury prevention research Queen’s University (
Marlene Power Forest schools/outdoor
Child and Nature Alliance of Canada and Forest Schools Canada
Ellen Sandseter Risky play research Queen Maud University College (Norway) (
Brenda Simon Lawyer and nature play
advocate PLAYbynature (
Christine Alden
(Observer) ** Philanthropy The Lawson Foundation (
* Shannon Devane (OMEX), Pamela Fuselli (Parachute Canada) and Claire LeBlanc (Canadian Pediatric
Society) are not co-authors as directed by their respective organizations (see Results for more details);
** Christine Alden represented The Lawson Foundation who was a significant funder of this project, but she
was not a participating member of the consensus group.
An on-line survey was developed to solicit assessments and comments from stakeholders on the
draft Position Statement. The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Ethics Board reviewed
and approved the administration of the survey and use of a passive consent process. The survey sought
assessments of the clarity of the various sections of the Position Statement as well as levels of
agreement with the text. Basic demographic information was requested and an opportunity was
provided to offer open comments on any aspect of the Position Statement. The complete survey in both
English and French is available in Supplemental 1. The survey was disseminated through the various
networks of consensus group members, and followed a snowball sampling methodology (recognizing
the inherent risk of bias) to maximize reach and input. The survey was live from 25 February to 15
March 2015. After the survey closed, empirical responses were tabulated and analyzed by Joel Barnes.
Written comments were consolidated into themes by Casey Gray with assistance from additional
HALO staff. A subcommittee of the consensus group, including Mark Tremblay, Casey Gray, Mariana
Brussoni, Susan Herrington, Guylaine Chabot, Katherine Janson and Richard Larouche reviewed the
survey materials and worked together to revise the Position Statement based on the survey feedback,
provided changes remained true to the available evidence-base (see Results). The revised Position
Statement was circulated to the entire consensus group for comment and final revisions. Consensus
was achieved on the final Position Statement. Revisions were translated to finalize the French version.
The stakeholder survey permitted respondents to express their interest in publicly disclosing their
support for the Position Statement pending their review of the final draft. To facilitate this, interested
respondents were asked to provide an email address where the final Position Statement could be sent.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6482
Respondents then had the opportunity to review and respond with their permission to publicly display
their support/endorsement of the Position Statement. The list of supporters is housed on the HALO
website (
To maximize the impact of the Position Statement a comprehensive media, public relations and
communication plan was developed and led by ParticipACTION. A public launch date of 9 June 2015
was established, including a national press release with proactive media outreach in key markets across
Canada. To enhance the national outreach, a network of national spokespersons was trained to field
interview requests across Canada, including photo opportunities and on-site interviews at adventure
playgrounds or similar sites in major markets. Organizations involved in the development of the
Position Statement received spokesperson training on the key messages and employed template press
releases to customize and use to respond to the national release in a coordinated fashion.
As a part of the communications plan, a comprehensive, coordinated dissemination strategy was put
in place by ParticipACTION, utilizing and maximizing the reach of the consensus group,
their networks and memberships. The Active Canada 20/20 ( Active Play
Action Group embraced the Position Statement as its primary activity for the past year to further
support its distribution and uptake. The dissemination of the Position Statement was significantly
enhanced by inserting it in the ParticipACTION Report Card on the Physical Activity of Children and
Youth ( Formerly the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card
(, the Report Card has enjoyed extraordinary media coverage and impact
over the past decade [60]. The strategy to combine the launch of the Position Statement and the release
of the 2015 Report Card was intended to amplify the reach of each product while also being mutually
supportive in message.
The Position Statement is a concise, public-facing, consolidation of evidence, and while it does
provide recommendations, it is not a program to increase active outdoor play for children.
It was designed to be a foundation of credible evidence from which programs, strategies,
campaigns, policies, practices and environmental modifications can be provoked, initiated and
supported. Nevertheless, deliberate, proactive strategic planning by consensus panel members
occurred throughout the Position Statement development process such that “responses” to the
Position Statement in the form of mechanisms to facilitate progress towards the recommendations can
be made. The legacy of this initiative is preserved in the Position Statement itself as well as this
mini-series of papers in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health which
includes the two background systematic reviews [43,46] and this process and outcomes paper.
3. Results
The process, while intensive, was successful and consensus was achieved on the final product.
All individuals/organizations represented in the consensus group approved and supported the final
Position Statement except for Parachute Canada (, the Canadian Paediatric
Society ( and OMEX ( Each organization sent a statement to explain the
reason they chose not to endorse the final statement. These statements are provided as received below.
“Parachute very much appreciated the process and are supportive of the work of this group.
After a review by our Expert Advisory Committee, unfortunately Parachute is not able to endorse the
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6483
position statement as it is currently written. One particular area of concern was the way the
reference to the CSA standards for playgrounds was worded”.
“The Canadian Paediatric Society enthusiastically supports the promotion of outdoor play.
However, the CPS is concerned that the statement as written does not strike an appropriate balance
between encouraging children’s self-directed outdoor activity and appropriate risk reduction.
We also note that the broad scope of the recommendations may hamper their implement ability.
For this reason, we are unable to endorse it”.
“OMEX was pleased to participate in the process and supports the spirit and intent of the Position
Statement. We agree with Parachute's position with respect to the wording regarding CSA
standards. Our role as insurers and risk managers is to promote safety and prevention of risk which
conflicts with what the paper is promoting for children play in public places i.e., reducing
and standards”.
The final Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play is presented in Supplementary 2. The Position
Statement is supported by peer-reviewed research evidence as cited in Supplementary 2, with complete
references also provided in this manuscript. Below, each evidence statement from the Position
Statement is elaborated on, substantiated, and more details of the supporting evidence are provided.
3.1. Position Statement Evidence
“When children are outside they move more, sit less and play longer—behaviours associated with
improved cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body composition, bone density, cardiorespiratory and
musculoskeletal fitness and aspects of mental, social and environmental health.”
There is consistent evidence showing that children are more active when they are outside compared
to when they are indoors [43,61–68]. Furthermore, when children are outside, they spend less time
sedentary compared to when they are indoors [43,64,66,67]. To our knowledge, no study has found
outdoor time to be associated with either lower physical activity or increased sedentary time.
There is consistent evidence indicating that physical activity among children and youth is associated
with health benefits such as a more favorable lipid profile, lower blood pressure, lower body mass
index and waist circumference, and improved cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal fitness [69–73].
In addition, prospective studies have shown that physical activity (especially weight-bearing activities
such as running, jumping and gymnastics) fosters the development of bone mineral density among
children and youth [74,75]. Conversely, a systematic review of 232 studies concluded that children and
youth who watched TV for more than 2 hours/day had less favorable body composition, reduced fitness,
lower scores for self-esteem and pro-social behavior, and decreased academic achievement [76].
Finally, reducing motorized travel can decrease greenhouse gas emissions [77], which has been shown
to prevent acute asthma events among children [78].
“Outdoor play is safer than you think! The odds of total stranger abduction are about 1 in
14 million based on RCMP reports. Being with friends outdoors may further reduce this number.”
Concerns about child abduction are frequently cited as a major deterrent by parents to letting their
children play and roam outside without supervision [27,79,80]. Furthermore, 45% of parents in one study
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6484
expressed the belief that abduction is the greatest danger faced by school aged children [81]. ‘Stranger
danger’ is not a concern reserved for young children—81% of parents of 10–12 year olds expressed worry
about ‘stranger danger’ in another study [79]. Thankfully, these perceptions are not supported by the data.
Dalley and Ruscoe [82] reported that in a period of two years across Canada, only 1 case of child abduction
by a total stranger was confirmed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
“Broken bones and head injuries unfortunately do happen, but major trauma is uncommon.
Most injuries associated with outdoor play are minor.”
Head entrapment and strangulation were once the main causes of death on playgrounds. As a result of
efforts by the injury prevention community to reduce hazards where children play, these are now extremely
rare [33,83]. The vast majority of injuries that do happen are very minor (e.g., sprains and strains,
bumps and bruises) [84–88]. Nevertheless, less minor injuries do occur as a result of normal and healthy
active play, and these tend to be fractures to the upper limbs. Two large studies that included all children in
a school district (15,074 Canadian students [89]; 25,782 New Zealand students [84]) reported there were
no fractures to the head or spine as a result of a fall from playground equipment over the course of the
1 year and 2.5 year assessment periods respectively. Furthermore, findings from a recent systematic
review by Nauta and colleagues [85] indicated that while the total number of reported injuries during
children’s unstructured play (identified as mainly climbing frames, monkey bars and trampolines) was
high compared with sport and active transportation, the incidence rate of medically treated injuries per
1000 hours of unstructured physical activity was lower than for sports and active transportation.
At the rate of unstructured play injuries reported by Nauta et al. [85] (average rate across all studies
presented in the paper was 1.5 injuries per 10,000 hours), if a child were to play for 3 hours a day every day
it would take them over 10 years to accumulate 10,000 hours, and presumably 1 or 2 injuries.
“Canadian children are eight times more likely to die as a passenger in a motor vehicle than from
being hit by a vehicle when outside on foot or on a bike.”
While parents and other care-providers are worried about letting children walk to places without adult
supervision, data from the Public Health Agency of Canada indicate that motor vehicle traffic collisions are
the leading cause of death resulting from injuries among Canadians aged 1 to 24 years [90]. Rothman and
colleagues [91] mapped the location of child pedestrian collisions in Toronto, and examined the influence
of the number of children walking and characteristics of the built environment. They found that after
controlling for the built environment, the number of children walking was not associated with the
likelihood of collisions. Their results suggest that walking to/from school is relatively safe, even in the City
of Toronto, and that safety could be further enhanced by improving the design of intersections [91]. In this
regard, an evaluation of the Safe Routes to School program (which has the dual objective of increasing
active school transportation and improving safety) in New York City revealed a 44% decrease in
pedestrian injuries among children [92].
“There are consequences to keeping children indoors—is it really safer? When children spend
more time in front of screens they are more likely to be exposed to cyber-predators and violence,
and eat unhealthy snacks.”
The potential use of the Internet for sexual predation is a growing concern for parents,
psychologists, and child care providers [93]. In 2012 in Canada, there were 543 cases of luring a child
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6485
through the Internet that were reported to the police [94]. Moreover, in a large study of youth,
victimization by both traditional bullying and cyber-bullying were associated with substance use,
violent behavior, unsafe sexual practices, and suicidal behavior [95]. Exposure to cyber-predators and
cyber-bullying is obviously minimized by spending less time on the Internet. Browne and Hamilton-
Giachritsis [96] have noted that violent imagery on television, video, and computer games is
consistently associated with an increase in the likelihood of violent or fearful behavior, particularly
among young children. With respect to unhealthy snacks, Borghese and colleagues [40] have reported
that television viewing was associated with a lower frequency of consumption of healthy foods (fruits,
vegetables, and green vegetables), and a higher frequency of consumption of unhealthy foods (sweets,
soft drinks, diet soft drinks, pastries, potato chips, French fries, fruit juices, ice cream, fried foods, and
fast food). Such a food consumption pattern may partly explain the consistent relationship between TV
time and less favorable body composition among children and youth [76].
Air quality indoors is often worse than outdoors, increasing exposure to common allergens
(e.g., dust, mould, pet dander), infectious diseases, and potentially leading to chronic conditions.
In an attempt to protect children from traffic-related air pollution and smog, public health authorities
may recommend keeping children inside on days where the air quality is poor (e.g.,
health/cleanairpeel/smog-health.htm [97]). However, there is evidence showing that air quality may be
even worse indoors than outdoors [41], and that exposure to a wide range of substances (e.g., dust mites,
cockroaches, domestic pet dander, moulds, fungal spores, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, volatile organic
compounds) in the home environment can increase the risk of asthma [42,98]. Furthermore, the World
Health Organization [99] estimated that, in 2012, approximately 4.3 million deaths were attributable to
household air pollution. These deaths resulted primarily from stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease, acute lower respiratory disease, and lung cancer.
In the long-term, sedentary behaviour and inactivity elevate odds of developing chronic diseases,
including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, some forms of cancer and mental health problems.
We are often focused on immediate and short term outcomes when it comes to children’s health and
well-being, yet the decisions we make during childhood have consequences across the lifespan, and
should be considered. Lee et al. [100] estimated that physical inactivity causes 6% of the global burden
of disease for coronary heart disease, 7% for type-2 diabetes and 10% for both breast and colon cancer.
Overall, physical inactivity caused approximately 9% of all deaths worldwide in 2008 [100].
Physical inactivity in childhood/adolescence also leads to increased cardiovascular risk among older
adolescents [101] and young adults [102]. Conversely, two very large randomized controlled trials on
adults have noted that a healthy active lifestyle (including daily physical activity and healthy eating)
reduced the incidence of type-2 diabetes by 58%, even outperforming the commonly-used drug
metformin [103,104]. A systematic review of prospective studies also found consistent evidence that
physical inactivity elevates the risk of depression [105]. Moreover, large prospective studies have
consistently shown lower risk of mortality among more active individuals [106–108] and higher risk
among more sedentary individuals [109].
Hyper-parenting limits physical activity and can harm mental health.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6486
Children today have little discretionary time available for self-directed play [18] and hyper-parenting
appears on the rise [110]. Janssen [110] examined how 7–12 year olds’ physical activity was
influenced by the four following hyper-parenting styles: (1) “helicopter parents” who try to protect
their children from all dangers and solve all of their problems; (2) “little emperor” parents who
endeavor to satisfy all of their children’s material desires; (3) “tiger moms” who push their children to
be exceptional in all domains; and (4) those who practice “concerted cultivation” (e.g., scheduling their
children into several extracurricular activities to provide them with an advantage). With the exception
of “helicopter parents”, hyper-parenting was associated with significantly lower physical activity. The
American Academy of Pediatrics [111] has raised concerns that the substitution of play with
academics and enrichment activities may have adverse consequences for children’s mental health.
College students who reported having “helicopter” parents reported higher levels of depression and
less satisfaction with life [112]. In a study of 317 US college students, helicopter parenting was
negatively related to psychological well-being and positively related to prescription medication use for
anxiety/depression and the recreational consumption of pain pills [113].
When children are closely supervised outside, they are less active.
Children’s independent mobility—their freedom to play and travel around their own neighbourhood
without adult supervision—has decreased markedly over the last decades [114–117], prompting
research examining the relationship between independent mobility and physical activity.
Recent studies provide consistent evidence that children who have greater independent mobility are
significantly more active [118–123]. In addition, Floyd and colleagues [124] investigated the factors
associated with children’s park-based physical activity using direct observation in a large sample of
children. They noted that the presence of a parent or another adult was associated with reduced physical
activity. Together, these findings emphasize the importance of unsupervised outdoor activities.
Children are more curious about, and interested in, natural spaces than pre-fabricated play
structures. Children who engage in active outdoor play in natural environments demonstrate
resilience, self-regulation and develop skills for dealing with stress later in life.”
Adults tend to create outdoor play spaces in line with their perspective of what is attractive to
children (e.g., bright colors) with a maximum of safety [125], although children have a preference for
natural outdoor play environments [126–131]. Settings that are malleable, as is characteristic of many
natural elements, afford a greater range of play and are thus more attractive to children [131].
Natural outdoor environments provide opportunities to engage in the most complex forms of play,
including active play [130]. Luchs and Fikus [130] compared children’s play behaviours on a nature-based
playground with a contemporary playground and found longer and more complex play episodes on the
nature-based playground. Nature affordances (e.g., leafs, branches) prompt children’s creative play and
imagination [132]. Natural environments allow for playful bodily experiences such as running, tumbling,
and being in water that can open up the sense of playfulness, which is so vivid in childhood [126]. In
addition, “green exercise” may provide a more enjoyable form of physical activity to children who are
not typically active [133]. Herrington et al. have also found that natural play spaces provide more
opportunities for diverse play activities and developmental gain than pre-fabricated play structures
[134,135]. Jones posits the seemingly lucid question “Could it be that within all these pedagogic,
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6487
economic, legislative, technological and emotional interventions and investments in childhood, society has
somehow missed what children really are, and what they really need?” ([125], p. 198).
Hüttenmoser compared 5-year-olds permitted independent mobility with socio-economically
matched children whose parents did not allow independent mobility (due to perceived traffic safety
concerns) [136]. He found better motor skills, social behaviour, independence and conflict resolution
skills in children with ready access to outdoor active play. Prezza et al. found similar relationships
among children 7–12 years of age [137]. Becker et al. observed that higher active outdoor play was
associated with better self-regulation and in turn with better academic achievement among pre-school
children [138]. Others have shown similar psychological benefits of active outdoor play [139–142].
Observational studies of children at play outdoors found that they exposed themselves to risk,
but displayed clear strategies for mitigating harm [143,144]. Children participating in a 14-week risky
play intervention improved their reaction time in detecting risk, increased self-esteem, and decreased
conflict sensitivity relative to their pre-intervention performance, and when compared to a control
group [145]. Opportunities for some risk in play promote learning of risk management strategies,
which are fundamental for children to keep themselves safe in the diverse situations typical in daily
life [16,32,44]. Experience with managing risks during childhood has also been associated with the
ability to negotiate decisions about substance use, relationships and sexual behaviour during
adolescence [16,37].
Gray hypothesized a direct link between generational increases in psychopathology and declines in
play time [146]. Current generations of youth have 5-8 times more clinically significant scores on
standardized measures of anxiety and depression when compared to youth in the 1950’s [147,148].
Gray cites evidence indicating that play deprivation contributes to a reduced sense of personal control,
reduced ability to control emotions, increased social isolation, and reduced happiness [146].
Furthermore, it has been shown that natural environments are sensory-rich environments that
contribute to problem-solving skills, self-regulation, and resilience [149,150] and the natural outdoors
fosters creative thinking [151].
Outdoor play that occurs in minimally structured, free and accessible environments facilitates
socialization with peers, the community and the environment, reduces feelings of isolation,
builds inter-personal skills and facilitates healthy development.”
The natural outdoors is a minimally structured environment that encourages children to engage in
more social interaction with peers [132]. When children engage in outdoor play, they construct
meaning in order to satisfy innate curiosity, and learning happens while interacting with peers [126].
Furthermore, in addition to facilitating physical activity, independent mobility enables children to
socialize with their peers [115,137,152] and to develop their way-finding skills [153,154]. Independent
mobility also fosters the development of children’s global sense of agency and a more positive
relationship with the environment [155,156].
3.2. Recommendations
Like physical activity in general [157], children’s active outdoor play is affected by multiple
levels of influence [158,159]. Therefore, consistent with social-ecological models of health
behavior [157,160–162], the recommendations included in the position statement (Supplementary 2)
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6488
target multiple levels of influence including the family, the social environment, the built environment
and public policies. In agreement with the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion [163], the intent is to
make the healthy choice the easy choice, and the norm. This could be achieved by: (1) increasing
opportunities for children to play outdoors in all settings including their home, school, childcare center,
and neighbourhood environments; (2) addressing key barriers to active outdoor play (in particular
restrictive design guidelines and the fear of lawsuits related to liability issues); and (3) avoiding
exaggeration of risks associated with active outdoor play which may discourage parents from letting
their children go outdoors.
3.3. Stakeholder Survey Findings
During the two and a half weeks that the on-line stakeholder survey was open, 2514 respondents
landed on the front page. Responses varied by question (1702 to 1908 responses for close-ended
questions; 558 to 641 responses for open-ended questions) with lower rates on questions in the middle
to end of the survey. Respondents were from every province and two of the three territories in Canada
with the majority living in Ontario (28%), Alberta (22%), British Columbia (16%) and Quebec (11%).
International respondents (2%) were from the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia
and several countries in mainland Europe and Asia. The majority of respondents identified as health
professionals (29%), early childhood care providers (16%), government (15%), teachers (12%) and
non-government organizations/board members (10%).
For all sections of the Position Statement (position, context, evidence, recommendations),
the proportion of respondents who strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that the sections were clearly
stated ranged from 96% to 98%. The proportion who strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the
message in these sections ranged from 97% to 99% (Table 3). From the open-ended questions, the
most frequently occurring concerns and suggestions were in relation to the Position Statement’s
evidence (lack of supporting references—now added), tone (negative and condescending in places) and
terminology (e.g., “risk”, “hyper-parenting”, “loosening the reins”). Changes were made accordingly
as described in the Methods. 1008 respondents indicated interest in being supporters of the Position
Statement once it was finalized.
Table 3. Stakeholder assessment of the Position Statement’s clarity and stakeholder level
of agreement, by section.
Section Title Section Clearly Stated Agreement with Section
Total N
Agreement Total N Strongly
Statement 1903
(97.1%) 1908 1738
Context 1809
(97.2%) 1811 1575
Evidence 1770
(95.8%) 1773 1438
Recommendations 1723 1290
(97.7%) 1727 1388
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6489
The launch of the Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play and the release of the
ParticipACTION Report Card occurred on June 9th, 2015. The Report Card and Position Statement as
well as related media and stakeholder toolkit materials are available at
4. Discussion
The aim of this paper was to provide a thorough and transparent description of the process used to
create this evidence-informed Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play for use by stakeholders
committed to the promotion of healthy active living among children. The multi-sectorial,
multi-disciplinary nature of the consensus group, and the extensive stakeholder consultation,
were clear strengths of the initiative. Bringing researchers and advocates for physical activity and play
in nature and the outdoors together with those from injury prevention, insurance and law created a
unique, respectful, and impactful environment where different opinions surfaced and a balanced
outcome emerged.
The debate regarding the benefits and harms of active outdoor play has typically pitted injury
prevention, insurance and liability concerns against those promoting physical activity and child
development. This Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play development process has been unique in
bringing together professions that have traditionally been at odds to develop an evidence-based
position statement that all parties can support. It represents an opportunity to develop a shared national
vision that can ensure joint messaging and provide support to agencies across Canada in their efforts to
promote active outdoor play locally within their communities.
While bringing groups with sometimes divergent views together was a strength of this process,
it predictably came with its challenges. The inability to completely overcome these challenges is
reflected by three participating organizations unable to endorse the final Position Statement as
presented in the results. While these three groups were very supportive of the overall intent of the
Position Statement, they felt certain aspects exceeded their comfort zone. One specific
recommendation was particularly controversial: “Provincial and Municipal Governments: Work
together to create an environment where Public Entities are protected from frivolous lawsuits over
minor injuries related to normal and healthy outdoor risky active play. This protection would no longer
restrict Public Entities to using the Canadian Standards Association CAN/CSA Z614 “Children’s
Playspaces and Equipment” as a guide for the design of outdoor play spaces and as a requirement for
the funding of these spaces. An increased investment in natural play spaces in all neighbourhoods is
encouraged.” From the comments of the concerned organizations their interpretation of this
recommendation is that removing the requirement of all outdoor play spaces adhering to this guideline
will somehow place children at unacceptable risk. Despite this concern we elected to leave this
recommendation in. There are several lines of reasoning for this decision.
1. We believe the CSA Z614 Standards need to be re-examined to ensure that they consider the
latest injury data and research on children’s outdoor play and the importance of risky play in
children’s health and development. Because currently funding tends to be tied to meeting CSA
Standards, we are not convinced that the other side of the healthy development equation
(i.e., health benefits of play with an element of risk) are adequately considered in the science
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6490
and injury statistics used to date. We know very little about how the denominator of “child use
hours” is considered when interpreting injury statistics.
2. Of the nearly 2,000 stakeholder survey respondents (a presumably informed sample) 21/1
199 comments provided even mentioned CSA (positive or negative) suggesting that to the
larger sector represented by stakeholders sufficiently engaged to not only answer the survey but
provide comments is generally supportive of this recommendation.
3. Based on the experience of many on consensus group, the CSA guideline is frequently cited by
school and recreation administrators as a barrier to the development of more nature-based play
spaces. The CSA Z614 Standards’ focus on structures, equipment, and surfacing materials [164]
results in play spaces that are more likely to consist of equipment than natural play environments
with loose materials and as the Position Statement points out, this may limit children’s interest,
enjoyment and participation. The research indicates that play in nature is more complex and diverse
than equipment based playgrounds, and is longer in duration [130,131,165,166]. Play in nature
also increases moderate-to-vigorous physical activity [167]) and light to moderate physical
activity among children [168,169]. Play in nature fosters self-determination [149] and helps
children with emotional and behavioural problems [170,171]. Natural play environments are
also more gender neutral and offer more gender equity [172].
4. From the consensus group deliberations, the comments received in the stakeholder survey, and
the evidence supporting natural play spaces for children, there is ample support to consider
alternate options to the CAN/CSA Z614 guideline. We are not recommending the elimination
of the guideline, but rather revision or allowance of alternate approaches. For example, the
guideline could be revised to better accommodate natural play spaces; the guidelines could
allow for other guidelines to apply; or a different approach (e.g., Play Safety Forum: Managing
Risk in Play Provision [173]) could be employed.
5. Finally, a very engaged youth group submitted the following quote after in-depth discussions
on the Position Statement: “From our experience as Canadian young people, this statement
coincides with what we believe contributes to fun, healthy, and active child development.
From our perspective, which stems from our research and personal experience, this statement
accurately identifies priorities for child active outdoor play.” (Child health 2.0 Youth Advisory
Board and Child health 2.0 Research Team). While it could be argued that this group is not
intimately familiar with CSA guidelines, their resounding support provides a further layer of
reassurance that the core intent of the Position Statement is aligned with what youth want.
Play is an important childhood need, so fundamental it is enshrined in the United Nations Convention
on the Rights of the Child [11,174]. The accompanying systematic reviews to this paper highlight the
particular importance of active outdoor play for children’s health and development [43,46]. Yet recent
decades have seen a trend toward greater monitoring and restrictions on children’s play, and currently
half of Canadian children play actively outdoors for fewer than 3 hours per week [18]. International
child health experts have expressed concern over this low level of active outdoor play. The U.S.
Centers for Disease Control Obesity Center Director wrote that opportunities for play may be the “only
requirement” for increasing children’s physical activity [175]. Similarly, Burdette & Whitaker argued
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6491
that play can “improve all aspects of children’s well-being: physical, emotional, social, and cognitive
The UK’s Play Safety Forum’s [36] 2008 position statement encouraging provision of risky play
was endorsed inter alia by the UK government’s Health and Safety Executive and facilitated shifting
their approach to play provision [177]. To our knowledge, this Position Statement is the first to fully
disclose, document, and have peer-reviewed the process undertaken and the outcomes achieved. With
our broad sector representation, the rigour of the Position Statement development process, and
accompanying national social marketing campaign, we are aiming to shift Canadians’ approach
towards and anxiety around children’s active outdoor play with targeted messaging for all relevant
stakeholders. Campaigns like this have been successful in influencing policies and practices in the past
Parental and societal anxieties, attitudes about social dangers, and perceptions of the value of
free play and outdoor autonomy exert a strong influence on children’s outdoor risky play
opportunities [16,27,81,158,178–182]. A shift in perceptions of risk is necessary, changing from a
perspective of danger and harm to one of challenge, adventure and opportunity. Previous work such as
Nieheus et al.’s Opportunity for Adventure risk reframing intervention, has suggested that such a shift
is possible, [183,184,185]. They describe several ‘aha’ moments whereby intervention participants
realize the potential negative impacts of having a fearful approach to children’s risky play and the
benefits of supporting children’s health risk taking. For example, parents (all mothers) commonly
expressed wanting to raise independent children, and through the session realizing that their own
anxiety-based care-giving was limiting their children’s opportunities for the new experiences and
challenges necessary for self-sufficiency. Interventions to encourage outdoor risky play opportunities may
particularly resonate for fathers, who are more likely than mothers to engage in risky play and endorse risk
taking as important for facilitating children’s physical development and self-confidence [32,186–188].
Research could incorporate instruments such as the Tolerance of Risk in Play Scale (TRiPS),
to assess differences or changes in attitudes [189].
Recent evidence has also shown that risk-reframing (less fear and greater appreciation for risky
play) can be successfully achieved through a training intervention in early childhood pre-service
teachers [190]. Also, the theoretical underpinning of early childhood pedagogy may be important in
the alignment of early childhood teachers’ beliefs and practices relating to risky outdoor play. An early
childhood teacher education that focuses on theories on the individual’s interrelationship with the
environment through perception and utilization of affordances, where children’s learning is put in
direct relation to their actions in various environments, coupled with a strong emphasis on early
childhood teachers’ own practical skills of physical active and outdoor play seems to enhance
children’s opportunity of active outdoor play in child care institutions [191].
The release of the Position Statement will benefit greatly from the proactive distribution, public
relations and media strategy prepared to maximize the reach and impact of the release of the
ParticipACTION Report Card [60]. Through the Report Card, the Position Statement will directly
reach relevant government and non-government organizations whose work touches child and youth
physical activity across Canada. The general public, parents, and youth will also be reached indirectly
through the media and directly through public-facing communications channels (social media, blog,
website) of ParticipACTION and collaborating organizations (see author list and affiliations). To reach
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6492
the audiences specifically identified within the Position Statement, it will be further shared by the
collaborating organizations through their networks. Post release, evaluation will occur as part of the
larger Report Card evaluation plan, including tracking of distribution, media impressions, hits and
quality, website traffic, and social media reach and engagement among Canadians. Surveys of Report
Card users and debrief meetings with ParticipACTION’s strategic partners and collaborating
individuals and organizations will provide insight into the perceived impact of the Position Statement,
and report Card, within each province and territory.
In addition to dissemination and evaluation plans, efforts to ignite action to advance the advice
contained in the Position Statement were initiated during the development process. For example,
the Active Canada 20/20 Active Play Action Group began soliciting funding to develop a supportive
tool-kit to implement recommendations contained in the Position Statement before it was even released.
Similar coordinated and proactive planning was done by The Lawson Foundation and ParticipACTION.
This proactive coordination should help give life to the Position Statement in a timely fashion.
While this paper and the accompanying systematic reviews [43,46] provide substantial evidence
supporting our Position Statement, there are many future research needs; a list of research priorities is
provided below.
Future research should further compare the benefits and harms between active play in natural
environments and other outdoor environments, as current evidence is mixed. For instance,
Coe et al. [192] found that children (aged 3–5 years) were more active in natural environments,
while another study indicated that both natural and traditional playgrounds interventions can
increase the time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, but the more traditional
playground interventions were more effective at increasing physical activity in children
(aged 8–9 years)[192].
Future research should also evaluate promising approaches to risk reframing, especially
regarding the perceptions that society has on the role of women who are responsible for the
care of children. Despite societal changes, mothers tend to remain responsible for the care of
children and the accompanying risk management. This responsibility felt by mothers,
influences their children’s outdoor play [193].
Research that concurrently considers the benefits and harms of active outdoor play is required,
including exploring age and gender-related differences. Research tends to study the benefits
and harms in isolation rather than looking at the overall health and well-being of the child.
Further research that investigates if engagement in active outdoor play and risky play during
the childhood years offers some protection against unintentional injuries during the adolescent
and adult years is required. For example, what risk management skills are gained by these
experiences and how do they influence the individual’s ability to navigate risks in different
environments and circumstances both short- and long-term?
Further research is needed to assess the influence of active outdoor play and risky play on
children’s risk management. A 14-week risky play intervention that showed improved reaction
time in detecting risk [145] provides emerging evidence. Additional research should explore
the influence on executive functioning and on real-world risk decision-making.
Injury surveillance that includes measures of exposure would provide a more accurate sense of
the likelihood of serious injury while engaged in active outdoor play. Nauta et al.’s [85]
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6493
systematic review indicated lower injury rates for unstructured play, compared to sports and
active transportation, when the magnitude of exposure was considered. Consistency in
measurement strategies and definitions of serious injury would also improve estimates.
Additional research on the barriers and enablers for parents, teachers, care-providers and
policy-makers to promote and facilitate active outdoor play that is required to inform and
improve future interventions.
More evidence from stronger research designs (e.g., randomized controlled trials) with valid
and reliable measures is needed.
5. Conclusions
There is broad support from the published literature, the consensus group, and the stakeholders
consulted that the optimal balance between health promotion through active outdoor and risky play,
and injury prevention and safety concerns, has been lost for children today. The Position Statement on
Active Outdoor Play presented here is intended to facilitate a recalibration of attitudes, practices,
and ultimately normative behaviors to promote healthy child growth and development.
The preparation of this Position Statement was made possible through funding from The Lawson
Foundation, the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of
Eastern Ontario, the KidActive—Healthy Kids, Communities and Outdoors grant from the Ontario
Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Healthy Communities Fund (HCF) Program Stream, and
ParticipACTION. We would like to acknowledge the early participation in this process by Shannon
Devane, Pamela Fuselli and Claire LeBlanc.
Author Contributions
Mark Tremblay, Casey Gray, Shawna Babcock, Katherine Janson and Christine Alden served as the
Steering Committee for the development of the Position Statement. Mark Tremblay, Casey Gray,
Katherine Janson and Mariana Brussoni orchestrated the development and writing of the Position
Statement. Joel Barnes administered, collated and analyzed the stakeholder survey. Mark Tremblay,
Casey Gray, Richard Larouche, Katherine Janson and Mariana Brussoni wrote the manuscript.
All authors participated in the Position Statement development meeting, contributed expertise and
content to the position statement, revised the paper critically for important intellectual content,
and provided final approval of the version to be published.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12 6494
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... Activities during recess, such as creative play, can have additional benefits for student outcomes [21]. Recess is typically outdoors, and research on exposure to outdoor nature suggests affective, cognitive, and physical benefits for children [22], leading to a group of Canadian experts creating a position statement on the importance of outdoor active play [23]. Outdoor play, compared to indoor play, includes exposure to nature, sunlight, increased opportunities for risky play, and reduced exposure to potential harms of the internet and screentime which can all influence developmental outcomes [23]. ...
... Recess is typically outdoors, and research on exposure to outdoor nature suggests affective, cognitive, and physical benefits for children [22], leading to a group of Canadian experts creating a position statement on the importance of outdoor active play [23]. Outdoor play, compared to indoor play, includes exposure to nature, sunlight, increased opportunities for risky play, and reduced exposure to potential harms of the internet and screentime which can all influence developmental outcomes [23]. Research suggests that a 15 minute walk outdoors improves cognitive functions such as attention and working memory, while walking indoors, did not [24]. ...
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Background Recess provides a key physical activity opportunity for students in school, yet a wide range of recess requirements exist. To design optimal recess policies, the effect of recess on students’ educational outcomes must be better understood. Therefore, the purpose of this mixed-method systematic review is to identify and systematically evaluate research on the effects of recess on student educational outcomes, including behavior, cognitive performance and academic achievement. Methods A systematic search of the literature in ERIC (EBSCO), ProQuest Central, PsycINFO, Teacher Reference Center, MEDLINE Complete (EBSCO), and CINAHL Complete was performed through September 2022. Data was extracted from quantitative studies, and reported themes with exemplar quotes were extracted from qualitative studies. The Mixed Method Appraisal Tool (MMAT) was used to assess study quality. Results The search identified 932 articles, of which 13 were included in the review, including 8 quantitative and 5 qualitative studies. Eleven studies were conducted in the United States, and reported sample size of studies ranged from 12 to 11,624. Studies found mixed effects on student behavior, discipline referrals and academic achievement. Qualitative studies reported multiple benefits of recess including increased focus, improved problem solving and academic achievement. Conclusions Overall, evidence suggests positive benefits for behavior and either positive or null benefits of recess on academic achievement. However, evidence is limited by non-controlled study designs and diversity in outcome assessments. Additional quantitative evidence is needed to convince policymakers of the specific evidence supporting recess, but also to advise on the optimal recess policies and practices to improve student learning.
... This means that families can act as role models in their homes to increase PA participation in children. Evidence shows that parental support of school learners in PA participation also contributes to maintaining PA participation habits (Tremblay et al. 2015). It is important to note that a lack of family and friend encouragement decreases PA participation at the adolescent stage (Campos et al. 2019). ...
... There are siblings and parents in the family so family support can manifest in many different ways. This result is consistent with other studies that highlighted family encouragement as having a more significant impact in promoting PA participation among children (Duncan et al. 2005;Tremblay et al. 2015). It is also important to note that a lack of family encouragement decreases PA participation at the adolescent stage (Campos et al. 2019). ...
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Background Low physical activity (PA) participation levels and increasing non-communicable diseases in children are concerning in South Africa and globally. Objectives We sought to assess the mediating role of perceived social support factors on the relationship between PA enjoyment and PA levels among rural, peri-urban and urban school children. Method A cross-sectional study was adopted to assess peer, family and teacher encouragement as mediators on the relationship between perceived PA enjoyment and perceived physical activity participation among children, using the Physical Activity Questionnaire for Older Children (PAQ-C). The sample comprised a random sample of primary school learners aged 9–14 years. Results The sample consisted of 870 primary school learners with a mean age of 11.0 ± 1.49 years. Most participants were girls (n = 519; 59.7%). The findings suggest low levels of perceived PA participation (mean = 2.33, standard deviation [s.d.]: 0.43). Peer (β = 0.0187, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.0088, 0.0307), family (β = 0.0280, 95% CI: 0.0155, 0.0425) and teacher (β = 0.0242, 95% CI: 0.0127, 0.0378) encouragement partially mediates the relationship between perceived PA enjoyment and perceived PA participation. Family encouragement (β = 0.0158, 95% CI: 0.0017, 0.0311) has the most considerable mediating effect, followed by teacher encouragement (β = 0.0125, 95% CI: 0.0010, 0.0269). Conclusion The findings demonstrated low levels of perceived PA participation in school learners. Therefore, we recommends including social factors as mediators in PA intervention programmes in primary schools. Clinical implications Social support factors as mediators on the relationship between PA enjoyment and PA participation among children may improve children’s PA participation levels and help prevent non-communicable diseases in future.
... Currently, the number of children playing outdoors annually is decreasing worldwide 1,2) . Outdoor play is defined as "unstructured physical activities that occur outdoors during a child's free time" 3) . Daily physical activities during childhood encompass physical education classes, sports club participation, and outdoor play. ...
... As outdoor play is affected by physical environmental factors 33) , further studies should include children from multiple different locations for more robust results. Third, there are no standardized measurements of outdoor play, and the reliability and validity of the measurement method have not been demonstrated 3) . In addition, we investigated the duration of outdoor play on weekdays only, and did not evaluate the duration on weekends. ...
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Outdoor play during childhood is vital for physical, cognitive, and social development. Outdoor play is influenced by friends, though the relationship between outdoor play and the number of close friends is not clear. This study aimed to investigate the association between peer group size and outdoor play among children aged 9–12 years. This study was cross-sectional in design. We recruited fourth- to sixth-grade children from two public elementary schools. Outdoor play contents and duration on weekdays were collected via a questionnaire, and the total duration of outdoor play on five weekdays was calculated. We asked the children to nominate up to 10 of their closest friends. We calculated the peer group size as the total number of reciprocal closest friends for each child. A multivariate linear regression analysis was conducted to investigate the association between peer group size and outdoor play duration, adjusted for gender, grade, school, body mass index, sports club participation, and screen time. This study included 291 children (137 girls, mean age: 10.6 ± 1.0 years). The peer group size was associated with outdoor play duration after adjusting for confounding factors (β: 0.18, 95% CI: 0.07-0.30). This study revealed that children aged 9–12 years, with larger peer group size showed a significantly longer duration of outdoor play.
... Children and youth were less active and spent more time being sedentary (particularly on screens), engagement in outdoor time and play declined, and mental health and well-being were negatively impacted [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9]. Restricted access to the outdoors (including playgrounds and public green spaces), closures of schools and childcare settings, and cessation of sports and recreation activities reduced outdoor play and movement opportunities; this warrants concern as play and movement are critical for optimizing and maintaining physical, cognitive, social, and emotional health [10,11]. In Canada in the first months of the pandemic, just 4.8% of children and 0.6% of youth met the combined 24-h movement behaviour guidelines (physical activity (PA), screen time (ST), sleep [12]) [6]; guideline adherence was still low six months later (4.5% of children and 1.9% of youth) [7], and these figures were drastically lower than the pre-pandemic levels, where 15% of 5-17-year-olds were meeting guidelines as per the Canadian Health Measures Survey [13]. ...
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Background Like many places globally, the health and well-being of children and youth living in Canada were significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Restricted access to the outdoors, schools, and public green spaces impacted children’s physical activity (PA), sedentary behaviour, and sleep. Restrictions changed throughout the pandemic, and children’s and youth’s movement behaviours may have been differentially affected based on time and place. This paper aimed to examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the movement behaviours of children and youth living in Nova Scotia (NS), Canada, over time and by geographic region using mixed methods. Methods This study employed an explanatory sequential mixed-methods design. Secondary data from three repeated cross-sectional surveys of parent-reported demographic, movement, and geographic data of 291 children and youth aged 5–17 years were analyzed. Spatial cluster analyses were applied to identify geographic concentrations of children and youth who were more or less likely to meet the moderate-vigorous PA (MVPA) guideline during the pandemic. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 Nova Scotian parents to understand their perspectives on their child’s movement behaviours during the pandemic. Interviews were analyzed deductively based on quantitative results using reflexive thematic analysis. Results Our findings showed only 5.5% of children and youth were meeting all guidelines throughout the pandemic. Of the movement behaviours, screen time (ST) differed across the pandemic and by age and gender. Clusters of children and youth meeting the MVPA recommendation on fewer days were found in regions within NS’s three largest population centres (Truro, Sydney, and the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM)), and clusters of those meeting the MVPA recommendation on more days were also identified in the HRM. From semi-structured interviews, themes indicated: (1) escaping screens during early parts of the COVID-19 pandemic and when weather was colder was hard; (2) having access to spaces to be active near the home helped facilitate children’s movement; and (3) higher socioeconomic status enabled more opportunities for movement. Conclusion Overall, fewer public health restrictions led to more favourable movement behaviours and spatial and sociodemographic factors may have been at play. Decision-makers should consider these factors when identifying strategies to keep children active during future health crises.
... Children engage in play activities in different physical environments, including homes, schools, and outdoor playgrounds (Tandoğan, 2014). The significance of outdoor playgrounds has been increasing (Tremblay et al., 2015). Several factors are believed to contribute to the growing importance of outdoor playgrounds. ...
This study, aimed at examining outdoor playground designs for children through children's drawings, was designed using a phenomenological design, which is a qualitative research method used to reveal and interpret individual perceptions or perspectives regarding a particular phenomenon. In line with the research objective, children aged 7-10, living in a neighborhood in the city center of Edirne, voluntarily participated in the study and were asked to draw a picture of their dream playground. In this context, 120 children were included in the research. The children's drawings were analyzed using descriptive analysis and content analysis. Within the scope of descriptive analysis, codings were made in the categories of "Variety of Play Elements," "Vegetation Materials," "Equipment," and "Ground," based on the "design criteria for children's playgrounds" determined through literature review. Elements that were outside the "design criteria for children's playgrounds" were examined through content analysis and categorized as "play centers," "animals," "other people," "vendors," "sky elements," and "other." The codings were done independently by three experts. The findings obtained from the children's drawings were evaluated and discussed in conjunction with the studies in the literature. As a result of the analysis, it was found that children included risky play equipment in their drawings, and it was recommended that when designing children's playgrounds, safe play equipment suitable for risky play should be included.
... Numerous studies highlight the importance of access to outdoor spaces for all age groups (Mapes, 2010;DEFRA, 2011). Tremblay et al. (2015) stated that outdoor spaces are crucial for children's health, as they encourage more movement, less sitting, and longer playtimes, lowering obesity risk (Porter et al., 2018) and promoting positive mental health (Hinkley et al., 2018). Compared to indoor physical activity, exercising outdoors has been shown to alleviate tension, anger, and depression better (Thompson Coon et al., 2011). ...
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As society and the economy have advanced, the focus of architectural and interior environment design has shifted from practicality to eliciting emotional responses, such as stimulating environments and innovative inclusive designs. Of particular interest is the home environment, as it is best suited for achieving restorative effects, leading to a debate between interior qualities and restorative impact. This study explored the relationships between home characteristics, restorative potential, and neural activities using the Neu-VR. The results of the regression analysis revealed statistically significant relationships between interior properties and restorative potential. We examined each potential characteristic of the home environment that could have a restorative impact and elucidated the environmental characteristics that should be emphasized in residential interior design. These findings contribute evidence-based knowledge for designing therapeutic indoor environments. And combining different restorative potential environments with neural activity, discussed new neuro activities which may predict restorativeness, decoded the new indicators of neuro activity for environmental design.
The importance of positive risk opportunities in children’s play environments has been well-established. Risk in play allows children to examine their own capabilities and limits in conditions where the likelihood of serious physical or emotional harm is low. Opportunities for risky play in outdoor settings has been tied to the features available in the physical environment, as well as peer and adult interactions. The varied materials and landforms present in more naturalized play spaces may especially encourage risky play. Scholarship has emerged which examines risky play in natural outdoor environments, but few studies tie positive risk to particular social, behavioural or environmental conditions. This paper investigates factors influencing risk-taking by examining young children’s play behaviours across two studies utilizing the same behaviour mapping framework. Play behaviours were examined in both The Backyard, a natural playspace in Santa Barbara (USA) and the outdoor yards of YMCA childcare centres in Vancouver (Canada). A profile of the range and degree of risky play observed in both sites is presented, followed by a deeper examination of the characteristics and conditions of ‘positive risk’ behaviours. Findings revealed risky play was significantly associated with physical play and more active movement behaviours. Peer interaction was not strongly predictive of positive risk, but some forms of adult interaction were influential in play in The Backyard. Physical environmental features such as natural and fixed elements, along with challenging topographies, were also associated with risky play. Analyses highlight patterns in the conditions and features which appear to support positive risk within outdoor playspaces, and implications for integrating affordances for positive risk into outdoor playspace design.
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Background Less than one-quarter of US children meet physical activity (PA) guidelines. Understanding the context in which PA occurs and how these contexts may play a role in meeting PA guidelines is an essential step toward developing effective behavioral interventions. The purpose of this study was to examine associations between PA context (sports participation and other out-of-school structured physical activities, active travel to school, and outdoor play), and the number of days children met PA guidelines in a representative sample of children living in Texas. Methods We analyzed cross-sectional data from a statewide sample of 4th grade children in Texas (mean age = 9.4 ± 0.6 years; female = 48.7%, 51.8% Hispanic), who completed the 2019–2020 Texas School Physical Activity and Nutrition (TX SPAN) survey. The TX SPAN survey was designed to monitor the statewide prevalence of overweight/obesity among school children, and assess habitual self-reported obesity-related behaviors, including diet and PA. Weighted Poisson regression models were employed to examine the associations between PA contexts (sports participation and other out-of-school structured physical activities, active travel to school, and outdoor play) and the number of days children met PA guidelines, adjusting for sex, race/ethnicity, overweight/obesity, urban-rural status, and economic disadvantage. Results Children met PA guidelines on 3.6 ± 2.3 days during the week. One in ten (11.2%) 4th grade children did not meet daily PA guidelines on any day of the week, while 72.1% met them between 1–6 days, and 16.7% met physical activity guidelines every day during the week. Participating in any structured PA (b = 0.31, 95%CI:0.20,0.42) was significantly and positively associated with the number of days children met PA guidelines. Playing outdoors 1–3 days (b = 0.26, 95%CI:0.04, 0.47) and 4–7 days in the past week (b = 0.79, 95%CI:0.59, 1.00) was significantly and positively associated with the number of days children met PA guidelines. Conclusion Participating in organized sports, participating in other structured PA, and playing outdoors may beneficially influence the number of days children meet PA guidelines. PA programs should consider these contextual factors and investigate how to promote organized activities and outdoor play effectively and appropriately among children.
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A growing body of literature indicates that humans need contact with nature for their wellbeing, however at the same time young children are becoming increasingly separated from the natural world as their access to the outdoors diminishes. The importance of school and prior-to-school settings in Connecting children with nature has been acknowledged. This study sought to find out how opportunities to engage with nature would influence children’s play and social behaviours. Two early childhood centres with contrasting outdoor environments were selected for the study, and twelve focus participants were observed over a twelve-week period in concert with interviews and field notes. The findings suggest that natural environments support children’s imaginative play, the development of positive relationships and allows for the environment to become a place of learning. The authors conclude that in order to make effective use of the outdoors, early childhood centres need to provide children with access to the natural environment and teachers who support children in developing a relationship with nature.
The tracking of physical activity and its influence on selected coronary heart disease risk factors were studied in a 6-year (original survey in 1980, with follow-ups in 1983 and 1986) study of Finnish adolescents and young adults as part of the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. The subjects in this analysis were aged 12, 15, and 18 years at baseline. Physical activity was assessed with a standardized questionnaire, and a sum index was derived from the product of intensity, frequency, and duration of leisure time physical activity. Complete data on physical activity index from each study year were available on 961 participants. Significant tracking of physical activity was observed with 3-year correlations of the index ranging from 0.35 to 0.54 in boys and from 0.33 to 0 39 in girls. Tracking was better in older age groups. Two groups of adolescents (active and sedentary groups) were formed at baseline according to high and low values of the index, respectively. Approximately 57% of those classified as inactive remained inactive after a 6-year follow-up. The corresponding value for active subjects was 44% (p < 0 01, active vs. inactive). The long-term effects of physically active and sedentary life-styles were studied by comparing groups of young adults who had remained active or inactive in every three examinations. Serum insulin and serum tnglyceride concentrations were significantly lower in active young men. They had a more beneficial high density lipoprotein to total cholesterol ratio and thinner subscapular skinfolds. Among young women, significant differences were seen in adiposity (subscapular skinfold) and in serum triglycende concentration. Physical activity was also related to less smoking in both sexes and, among young men, to lower consumption of saturated fatty acids and to higher polyunsaturated to saturated fatty acids ratio of the diet. In regression analyses adjusted for the 6-year change in obesity, smoking status, and diet, the change in physical activity was inversely associated with changes in serum insulin and tnglycerides in boys. Independent association with tnglycendes disappeared when insulin change was added to the model, suggesting that the effect may partly be mediated through insulin metabolism. The authors conclude that the level of physical activity tracks significantly from adolescence to young adulthood. Physical inactivity shows better tracking than does physical activity, and subjects who are constantly inactive express a less beneficial coronary risk profile compared with those who are constantly active. Am J Epidemiol 1994;140:195–205.
The physical environment plays a significant role in the development of self-determination. More specifically, natural environments in early childhood education can instill both competence and a sense of overall well-being in children. Research on self-determination in adolescence and adulthood is well-studied; however, little attention is focused on the conditions or contexts that elicit this outcome in children. Flexible, sensory-rich environments empower children to exercise preference, problem-solving, self-regulation, and engagement. The purpose of this research is to demonstrate how child-directed play within intentionally designed nature playscapes fosters self-determination. Analysis of the affordances of a 1.6 acre nature playscape, created to accommodate young children, highlights the role of open-ended play structures and loose parts. Observational video captured a diverse sample of 65 preschool children engaged in child-directed play. Descriptive vignettes portray instances of problem-solving, self-regulation, and engagement and provide a discussion point for the relationship between the affordances of natural learning environments and the development of self-determination.
Concern for child wellness has led play professionals to explore natural playscapes as a means to enhance free play and consequently child development. For preschool-aged children, dramatic play is a particularly valuable free play that advances cognitive skills, social skills, and emotional intelligence. This study compared the dramatic play affordances of natural and manufactured outdoor play settings to determine which afford the most dramatic play for preschool-aged children. Twenty-four 3- to 5-year-olds were observed during daily playtime on a “natural playground” and an equipment-based “manufactured playground.” Behavior mapping identified settings that afforded the most solitary dramatic, sociodramatic and complex sociodramatic play. The study suggests that environments designed with child-scale constructive play props, a sense of enclosure, and natural surroundings are more likely to support complex dramatic play. Intentional inclusion of these design elements may afford greater dramatic play in the preschool play yard.
With concerns increasing around childhood obesity and inactivity, playgrounds offer a chance for children to be active. But playgrounds also have risks, with injuries from falls being the most common. Research has shown that playground injuries can be reduced by lowering the heights of play equipment and using soft, deep surfaces to cushion falls. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has published voluntary standards for playgrounds to address these risks for several years. Parents can further reduce injury risks by following simple playground strategies. This statement outlines the burden of playground injuries. It also provides parents and health care providers with opportunities to reduce injury incidence and severity through education and advocacy, and to implement evidence-informed safety standards and safer play strategies in local playgrounds. This document replaces a previous Canadian Paediatric Society position statement published in 2002.