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28th July 2023

Summer’s here and the sound of children playing can be heard in most neighbourhoods. But with the rise of video games and social media, are today’s children playing out as much as their parents did and what can be done to encourage them to turn off their screens and go outside?

In our latest New Homes Podcast, Tom Roberts is joined by Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at the University of Exeter, who has a background in children’s mental health, and Redrow Group master planning director Kevin Parker to talk about everything related to play. Watch to discover how we integrate safe places to play into our developments and why play is crucial to children’s mental health and wellbeing.

The nostalgia of childhood play

For grown-ups, play is often linked to nostalgia and you can’t help but smile thinking back to your own childhood playtime.

Redrow - Podcast - EP29 Please Play Here

Helen and Kevin recalled fond memories of their own childhoods – spent building dens and riding bikes and exploring their local area, which started out by being allowed to go down their road and led to more freedom to “go round the block” and beyond as they got older .

“Parents feel that their children aren’t going out and aren’t as active as they were when they were younger,” Kevin said. “At Redrow we want to do whatever we can to try and reverse that and introduce play.”

What age should children be playing out by themselves?

We surveyed 2,000 parents and asked them about their own experiences of play and those of their children. The majority said their kids don’t play out as much as they did.

Helen said our research echoed hers.

“We asked parents at what age they were allowed out by themselves and what age they were going to let their child out by themselves. Parents told us they went out independently from about age nine, going to the park or to call for friends, but their children wouldn’t be going out by themselves until they’re 11,” on average, Helen explained.

Safe spaces to play

With more cars than ever on the roads, safety is a concern for parents with many also saying they don’t have access to a multifunctional space they can access as a family.

Our research found 21% of people had considered moving to a quieter street or cul-de-sac primarily for a safer place for children to play.

“We deliver shared surface community streets or cul-de-sacs, which are designed without pavements so it’s a shared surface where pedestrians and cyclists have priority and cars are deliberately then forced to slow down,” Kevin explained. “It creates a space that’s safe for older children to play or kick a ball around. We’re creating activity in the street and creating a sense of community.”

How children’s play is changing 

It’s not just the amount of time children spend playing outside that’s changing. Traditional games like hopscotch, British bulldog and hide and seek are on the decline, while football is being played more.

“Parents feel more comfortable taking their children to an activity or children are more familiar now with engaging with games where there are clear rules like football,” Helen suggested.

“Organised sport is fantastic for children, but children also need opportunities to just be creative, to explore things for themselves.”

Permission to play

While some neighbourhoods discourage ball games being played, at Redrow we take the opposite approach.

“We are trying to give permission to play. When we are thinking about design from the start, we integrate play into the overall placemaking strategy,” Kevin added.

“If you think about it from a holistic point of view, we should be able to encourage play wherever possible, so it feels like you have permission to play and it’s welcoming and safe.”

What are the benefits of play?

Free play, where the child chooses what they’re going to do, when and what time to stop is important for their mental health.

Helen said children will “use play to explore their emotions and express how they feel”.

She also explained how exploring small amounts of risk taking and challenging themselves in their play will help them deal with feelings of anxiety in later life.

Designing destinations and things to do for all ages

From tennis courts to outdoor gyms, walking or running loops, Redrow developments are designed as destinations for people of all ages, with plenty of activities to enjoy as part of an active lifestyle.

“Simple design interventions can make all the difference,” Kevin said. “If you have all that activity, you have an opportunity to create a sense of community because people are meeting new people or interacting. It’s about growing a sense of community and building that quality of life and health and wellbeing.”

The play report found that parents being outside too, while their children play, has helped them make friends with neighbours.

Helen said: “If you can design spaces that encourage people out then you get this sense of community. It’s better for children but it’s better for everybody.”

Designing play areas is child’s play

As part of our campaign to encourage outdoor play and celebrate this summer, we’re hosting a #RedrowBallGameChallenge. You can find out more about the competition on our social media channels.

We’ve also appointed a “junior head of play” following a competition which saw children design their ideal play area. You can find out about the winner below and see the runners up here.

At Tudor Meadows in Sawston local school children have helped us design two new play areas.

“That’s a great example of listening to local communities. They are effectively the experts in terms of designing play so we should be doing more of this,” Kevin added.

Screen time v play time

We all spend more time on screens, including children. From social media to gaming or video calling friends, it can be engaging but it also detracts from the time they could be spending outside playing. 

"In the same way that we shouldn’t give children takeaway pizza every night of the week for dinner, we should make sure that children aren’t just playing on screens and playing video games. We want to balance that with physically activity, outdoor time, time in nature time playing with friends in the real world,” Helen added. “

We have to make sure that outdoor spaces are inclusive and have things for children and young people to be doing, so they feel welcome in those spaces, if we expect them to the put down their computer games and go outside.”

For more things play related we have a huge amount going on. You can download the play report here .

We have activities taking place over the last weekend of July and the first weekend in August with free play kits available.

Find out more about the events here.

For details about the #RedrowBallGameChallenge check out our social media channels Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok and visit for more.

Meet the guests
Helen Dodd
Professor Helen Dodd
Children's psychologist
Kevin Parker - Group Master Planning Director
Kevin Parker
Group Master Planning Director

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