By Kerri Tyler of the Stroud Valleys Project

THE amount of time that children spend playing outside has declined in recent years, often at the expense of their mental and physical health.

Studies show that play is really important for children’s healthy development, but the drive for academic success can leave play on the back burner.

What’s more, while activities such as baby yoga or tots’ French develop children’s skills, you can have too much of a good thing; lots of organised activities can result in very young children experiencing stress because of their busy schedules.

During lockdown, we all discovered how important getting outside was for our mental and physical health.

For kids, opportunities to get outside and play in nature are especially important.

‘Free play’ outside lets children use their imagination and allows them to make independent decisions, as well as helping them to feel connected to the world around them.

“We believe playing outdoors is an essential part of a happy, healthy childhood and at the heart of a nurturing community,” explains Ben Morris of Play Gloucestershire, a charity that delivers creative outdoor play.

“Providing children with opportunities to explore through outdoor play helps them to benefit on a social, physical, and emotional level.

“They can express themselves and their ideas playing freely and with things that excite them.”

Stroud has many glorious places to play.

Our commons and valleys are peppered with tantalising nooks and crannies; we have waterways, both natural and built; and even our residential streets hide secret alleys and pathways to explore.

“Much of the work we do at Stroud Valleys Project factors in elements of play,” says SVP project officer Sharon Gardham.

“Capel’s Mill features willow arches and a wildlife pond, while our Sensory Garden at Stratford Park includes areas for children of all ages and abilities.

“And we have some brilliant outdoor activities coming up over summer: pond dipping in Kingswood on Saturday 9 July, bug spotting on Sunday 7 August, a geocache in Dursley on Monday 8 August and even Eel DNA testing on Sunday 21 August.”

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Three places to go wild in Stroud

Chalford Vale Park – this shady ‘rec’ has a river for paddling, woods for hide and seek, and places to play football and table tennis.

Horsley Park – with climbing logs, a sandpit and a picnic area, this community play space utilises natural materials throughout.

The Heavens – streams, logs, banks, and rope swings make this wooded area near Bowbridge a little adventurer’s dream.