Encouraging Physical Play in Girls (and Boys)

I use the term ‘stay-at-home dad’ a lot in reference to myself and my fellow fathers who are the ones looking after the kids while their partners are gainfully employed. It’s a counterpoint to ‘working mother‘ I suppose. When have you ever heard the term ‘working dad’?

Anyway, one of the ironies of the name is that us at-home dads rarely stay at home at all. Even a couch potato like me (my marathon running wife is the physically active adult of the house) is keen on attending playgroups, playdates, outings – and simple trips to the local parks.


My daughter adores going to our nearby playgrounds – whether large or small. Each piece of apparatus presents to her a challenge to overcome, an activity to be enjoyed again & again, or something to practice on to improve her skills.

So despite my couch potato ways, I do like to ensure our daughter gets a lot of physical activity. This is also backed up by her nursery, where the kids are frequently playing outside, whether it be organised football, planned assault courses, or simple old fashioned free play.

Girl on nursey slide

I hope this continues when she heads off to school, but a report by Liverpool John Moores University paints a different picture.  It finds that “the average amount of physical activity taking place during PE lessons was remarkably low”, and that as much as “68% of a child’s PE lesson is spent stationary”.

Childhood obesity continues to be an issue that worries parents. While it is only part of the solution, encouraging physical play is vitally important in combating this problem.

Girl leaping in playground

ESP Play, a provider of outdoor playground equipment in the UK, commissioned the research. They found that following their one of their installations, physical activity in all children increased.

One fact in particular jumped out at me: “Initially the playground had more impact on the activity levels of boys, but over time the girls increased their activity levels more.”

Continuing to encourage physical play in girls is incredibly important as they grow older. While toddler and preschool girls are regularly tearing around the playground, you see the proportion of girls lessen as they get older. There is a stereotype of boys being far more physically active than girls – who are seen as preferring less physical activities.

Fellow dad blogger John Adams recently wrote how he feels school uniforms could dissuade girls from physical activity. He suggested leggings would be a good addition to the uniform arsenal. I know my kid loves playing in hers…

Girl Playing on swing

To be fair, I have no need to doubt that my daughter’s new school will not provide adequate opportunities for physical activity – they are a forest school and have masses of outdoor space. They also let girls wear trousers as part of their uniform, and from what I see many choose to do so.

But it does keep me mindful of the need to stay aware of the amount of physical activity she gets. I don’t want her to turn out to be a couch potato like me.


Disclosure: The is a sponsored post in collaboration with ESP Play.

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