There are so many aspects of our daily life we are trying to get right at the moment; we have to look after our mental and physical health, take care of others and follow important government guidelines. As we do so, appreciating all the things we have to be thankful for, the inequalities in our society became ever starker. The guidelines indicate we are allowed to leave our homes once a day for exercise; this practice is now a pleasant habit since the weather has become milder but it has made us question how difficult it must be for parents of young children with no access to a safe, green space. We have seen parents taking their children out early in the morning to ensure they get some exercise in an uncrowded space but then if they return home to accommodation with no garden, their children are cooped up inside for the rest of the day.
Access to the outdoors is so important for parents and children. For example, White et al. found in 2018 that there is a correlation between spending 2 hours outdoors each week and both physical health and wellbeing. They specified the type of outdoor environment that is most beneficial; this includes ‘parks, woodlands and beaches’ (p. 1). It is important to bear in mind that not all outdoor environments can be said to be beneficial; there are legitimate concerns around air pollution and its impact on children (Klonoff-Cohen, Lam and Lewis, 2005). On the other hand, some research (Mendes et al., 2014) suggests there can be much higher concentrations of bacteria within an early years setting than outside.
What we also know from other research, is that children from areas of deprivation have less opportunity to engage in the natural spaces highlighted by White et al. (2018). This fact was noted by the DEFRA report in 2018 and our very own blog contributor, Paula Stone, flagged up in a previous post how segregation was occurring that prevented children in social housing accessing those outdoor spaces which had been provided specifically for children. There is currently a real concern that this same group of children will be impacted negatively if steps are taken to lock parks because people have been ignoring rules regarding staying at home and social distancing.
We do hope that in all the discussions around keeping the population safe, the specific needs of young children will not be forgotten, and in particular those young children who, because they are living in poverty, have little access to the outdoors.