Children spend less time outside than prison inmates

child plays at lake

Prisoners at a maximum security facility in the U.S. are guaranteed 2 hours of outdoor time daily, whereas 1 out of 2 kids worldwide spends less than an hour outside.

Children spend less time outside each day than prison inmates do in the United States. Inmates are guaranteed two hours of outdoor time daily, whereas one in two children is outside for less than an hour. A recent survey of 12,000 parents in 10 countries, who have children aged five to 12, found that one-third of kids spend under 30 minutes outside each day.

A new short film reveals how important it is for inmates to have their outdoor time on a daily basis and how surprised they are to learn that kids get even less. The inmates, who live at the Wabash Valley Correctional Institute, a maximum security facility in Indiana, describe daily outdoors time as “probably the most important part of my day.” It’s an opportunity to “take all the frustration and all your problems and just leave them out there. It keeps my mind right, keeps my body strong.”

Wabash Prison

When asked by the filmmaker how they would respond if their yard time were reduced to just one hour a day, the inmates are horrified at the suggestion. “I think that’s going to build more anger. That would be torture.” One guard said it would be “potentially disastrous.”

Shock and disbelief is registers clearly on the inmates’ faces when they learn that children are given less outdoor time than they. “Wow, that is really depressing. That really is,” one says.


The initial survey was conducted by laundry brands OMO and Persil, which, upon realizing how dire the situation is for children, launched a new campaign called “Dirt is Good – Free the Children.” The U.K.-based campaign is headed by Sir Ken Robinson, known for his work in the area of creativity and innovation in education, and Dr. Stuart Brown, head of the National Institute of Play. Parents can share their views on the importance of play and sign up their child’s school to Outdoor Classroom Day.

This new survey reiterates what we’ve been hearing from many different sources – that kids are spending far too much time in the house watching screens, instead of engaging in free play outdoors, using their imaginations and getting dirty. Outdoor time should be thought of as a “right” possessed by children, not something that is limited those whose parents have the “time, resources, or inclination to take them out.” Schools and governments need to get involved to ensure this happens. It’s just unfortunate that it takes a comparison to prison inmates to make us realize how little access to nature the world’s children are getting.

In the words of one Wabash security guard, “If you don’t have to throw the kids in the bathtub, they haven’t played hard enough.”

Katherine Martinko

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