CHILDREN like nothing more than playing in the mud, climbing trees and exploring the great outdoors.

But in the last 30 years or more the popularity of computer games and parental worries over safety and “stranger danger” have drastically reduced the time children spend playing in parks, woods and fields.

According to a recent survey three quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates - with the consequence that families are losing contact with nature.

Research has also shown children have a largely screen-based lifestyle, with just 21 per cent regularly playing outside compared with 71 per cent of their parents.

COMMENT: We played outside and only went home when we were hungry

Now the Inspiring Scotland charity - set up to tackle social problems - is calling for a new drive to encourage parents to get their children playing outdoors.

Writing in The Herald, Celia Tennant, chief executive of Inspiring Scotland, said: “Children need to play outside. They want to and they don’t care if it’s wet or windy or snowing. It is us, the adults, who do.

“We don’t want our kids to catch a cold, get muddy or hurt themselves and we worry about strangers and road traffic.

“But children are stronger than we think and playing outside makes them tougher. They need exposed to the elements and they need to test themselves.

“If they don’t learn about risks and dangers, they will continue to be imperilled by them.”

Dr Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s chief medical officer, said the benefits of outdoor learning, exercise and play were well documented.

She said: “Playing, learning and having fun outdoors helps improve wellbeing and resilience, increases physical activity and allows children to use the natural world to develop curiosity and science skills.

“There is also a growing body of research that shows children with higher levels of active outdoor play have improved cognition, which can result in better academic performance and contribute to closing the attainment gap.”

COMMENT: We played outside and only went home when we were hungry

Dr Adrienne Hughes, a lecturer from Strathclyde University’s School of Psychological Sciences and Health, said there were significant health benefits to outdoor play.

She said: “Active play helps to develop basic movement skills which children need in order to participate in sport and physical activity in the future,as well as other benefits such as resolving conflicts without adults around and developing resilience so they can cope with challenges.

“There is a sense from parents that they always need to be doing something with their children rather than simply letting them out on their own to play with their friends where they can use their imagination to invent games.”

Inspiring Scotland is currently working with the Scottish Government, councils, universities, schools, nurseries and charities on projects to encourage more outdoor play.

The move follows the launch in 2013 of Scotland’s first national play strategy by the Scottish Government which articulates the critical importance of play - which is also enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

COMMENT: We played outside and only went home when we were hungry

Last week, Maree Todd, the Minister for Childcare, announced that Inspiring Scotland would receive £862,550 to encourage greater use of outdoor learning.

She said: “The significant expansion of funded early learning and childcare gives us the perfect opportunity to define the type of experience we want to offer our children during their early years.

“That is why we are committing more than £860,000 to increase the use of outdoor learning, to ensure it becomes a defining feature of childhood in Scotland.

“Outdoor learning not only improves mental wellbeing and health and fitness, it can make a huge difference to children’s confidence levels and their ability to risk assess while encouraging a lifelong love of the outdoors.

“By supporting our young people to go outside and play we are not only making sure their early years are as happy and healthy as possible we are also ensuring every child in Scotland gets the best possible start in life.”