Classic outdoor and playground games such as tag – or “it” – leapfrog, rounders and conkers are on the verge of extinction as children turn to their screens, according to a new survey.

The decline in green and other suitable areas and increased concerns about children being outside alone are also thought to be contributing to the fall in outside play.

Some 36 per cent of children have never played “it”, 87 per cent haven’t built a treehouse, 81 per cent have not played leapfrog and 76 per cent never swung on a rope swing, according to survey of parents of 5 to 12-year-olds in a representative sample of 1,022 UK households, commissioned by Persil.

Furthermore, 94 per cent of parents surveyed said they had trouble encouraging their kids to go outside to play, with 84 per cent believing they may have less of a connection with nature due to lack of time spent outside.

This has worrying implications for the future generation’s views on sustainability and passion for preserving with wildlife on our doorstep, according to 67 per cent of those surveyed.

“We were shocked to find some of these beloved games, that were such a staple of past generations, are practically on the verge of disappearing. Nobody should be able to resist a game of muddy tag,” said Tati Lindenberg, of Unilever, which owns Persil.

“Getting dirty outdoors is so important for the development of children and their relationship with nature. We believe that a child has to build a connection with the natural world in order to care for it,” she said.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Playing outside, particularly in nature close to where they live, is critically important for childrens’ physical and mental health. This survey just underlines how it has to be an urgent priority for the government to level-up access to nature for people across the UK.”

“To have a well-functioning society, we need to pay close attention to children’s emotional development. That means children are supported and encouraged to do a lot of play outside – in lots of difference ranges of space. They need to be encouraged to play games like tag while all schools need to have outdoor space, particularly green space,” Mr Bennett added.

The research revealed that it’s been three months since the average UK child got muddy while playing outside.

There is growing evidence that playing – especially in nature – is good for children’s development, as well as adults’ state of mind.

One study of a pilot scheme, published last summer, found that children with autism showed significant improvements in learning, development and mental health after enrolling in an education programme revolving around nature.

The natural environment appears to play an important role in contributing to children’s emotional wellbeing and provides an escape from the over-stimulation of the artificial classroom environment, the study into the effectiveness of that programme found.

The Nature Learning Programme was run during the pandemic at Odessa Infant School in the London borough of Newham.

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The games most at risk of going extinct:

(The percentage refers to how many parents said their kids had never played the game).

*Grandmother’s footsteps is where one person is Grandmother or Grandfather, stood with their back to the class. Everyone else has to sneak up and try and touch them on the shoulder.

-To encourage kids back outdoors, Persil created an elaborate hoax with gaming influencers in a bid to harness the power of this virtual community. 

Five influential gamers including EthanGamer were led to believe they were getting an exclusive look at the latest game release, a sports simulation game called TAG.

However, as they streamed the trailer to their millions of followers on YouTube and Instagram, faces dropped when they realised the trailer was for the real-life game of tag – “only available in real life”.