Schools are being urged to ensure six- to 11-year-old children get the chance to play outside, following shocking survey findings.
A poll reveals that three-quarters of elementary students in that age group spend less time outside – in non-school time – than the daily hour recommended for prison inmates by the UN.
The report Play in Balance, commissioned by detergent company Persil, polled 12,000 parents worldwide. In the UK, 75 per cent of parents said their child preferred to play virtual sports games on a screen rather than real sports outside.
Educationalist Sir Ken Robinson told TES: "Schools have a big role because kids spend the greater part of their waking hours at school.
"I think it’s important that we look again at the importance of play-based learning – there’s a long history of research to show that play is not a waste of time, it is not time that is badly spent. Play, among human beings, has very important social benefits."
He added that playing outdoors in particular had important role in children's emotional, physical and social development and it was important that this was encouraged in schools and not "discouraged or ignored or suppressed".
The poll found that 82 per cent of British parents said the weather was a factor in whether children could play outside, 31 per cent said their children wanted to stay inside and 31 per cent said there was no time for their children to play outside.
But 45 per cent of parents polled said they wanted their child to have more outdoors play.
Sir Ken said: "There is a clear play imbalance emerging. Screens are a wonderful source of both education and entertainment but children need to be exposed to varied stimulus. Allow a child to be free outside with no structure and no gadgets and you will marvel at what they can achieve.
"We must place adequate importance on play now, so that our precious children grow up into successful, well-rounded and happy adults."
Schools are being encourage to participate in Empty Classroom Day on 17 June, which involves taking children outside for at least one lesson.