Active and free play for children

Two boys on a street painted with squares
Children playing actively in the street
boys playing hockey in the street

Many adults have fond memories of 'playing out' on the pavement or in the street as children. For today's children it's quite a different story, but it doesn't have to be – a little planning and imagination can make ‘playing out’ an important part of your child’s life too.

Research shows that 90% of adults played out regularly in their street as children. The majority of children now would like to do the same, but one in three aged between seven and 14 don't play or hang out in their street at all.

Street play offers an important stepping stone for both children and parents in the journey from the supervised play of younger years to the independent lifestyle of teenagers.

How does outdoor play benefit children?

  • children love to play. It allows them to get messy, meet up with other kids, make choices and decide their own rules
  • active outdoor play, running, jumping, climbing, chasing, is one of the best ways for children to stay physically active because it's fun and they'll forget they're exercising
  • as well as being fun, it's vital for their physical, social and emotional development. Play is so important that it is a human right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • active play helps children stay healthy. It can combat obesity and reduces the risk of serious illnesses
  • it helps them concentrate, relax, focus at school and sleep better at night
  • they’ll make friends and develop social skills and their imagination
  • playing independently with other kids helps them to learn about risk and improve their self-confidence
  • it’s a great way to spend time as a family

Getting started with active play

At first, you may want to stay with your children - you could do some gardening or have a chat with a neighbour. Try not to get too involved in your child's play - let them decide what to do and how to play.

Invite a few local children and their parents to join you when you feel confident, and let them play on the pavement while you're in the house. It's a good idea to set boundaries of where they can and cannot go and remind them of road safety. Leave your front door ajar so that you can hear them and check on them from time to time.

For more information and advice on playing out, visit Play EnglandLondon Play or Playing Out.

Things to do

Your children will most likely want to make up their own games for street play, or try the following ideas:

  • wheels - kids relish the opportunity to use their bikes, scooters and roller skates up and down the pavement;
  • chalk - children come up with imaginative designs for pavement drawing and it brightens up your street too;
  • balls - kick around with a game of football - use our Street Football guide (pdf) to get started; 
  • traditional street games - the old ones are still the best - children will love some of the games parents and grandparents used to play.

Playing Out sessions

Another option is to run a Playing Out session, limiting traffic for a few hours after school to allow children to play in the street.

Residents can have vehicle access and leave their cars parked in the street. However, it does often require a road closure application and you’ll need to set up a rota of stewards to manage the cars. Children are encouraged to do whatever they feel like doing: they may chalk on the pavements, have a football match or play on bikes and scooters.

Find out how to make your street safer and greener

Check out the best places to cycle with kids

Learn about the work of our community volunteers