Outdoor play is slowly being realised for the prominent factor that it plays in child development. However, there is still a long way to go in places, to rectify the damage that has been done in placing emphasis on conventional teaching and grades, at the expense of the children’s outdoor time. Us grown ups are very slowly coming to the realisation that we could have caused a lot more harm than good, sacrificing playground time, in the pursuit of better performance and increased knowledge base. I am here to run through the tip of the iceberg with regard to why play, and specifically outdoor play, is so important to children’s development.
First of all we need to look at the reasons why children’s outdoor play time has diminished so much. It isn’t just down to schools being under pressure to perform better, and produce improved results. There are other factors too. Rightly or wrongly, there is the perceived threat of stranger danger. A few generations ago children could explore for hours, even whole days, going quite far from their family home into areas, that as parents today, we wouldn’t let them go into alone. I am thinking of places such as forests and woods. Places that are natural playgrounds. Parents are working more hours now, and in a lot of cases it is both parents, through necessity. This leads to relying on other childcare options, instead of having a parent at home ready to supervise outdoor play. Screens are a big thing in most households too. It’s the way technology and living has gone, but have we embraced their presence so much, that it’s now impinging on children actually wanting to get out into the great outdoors? They can be a distraction to the more important job of play. Then there are all the health and safety issues that surround other people (such as schools) that look after our children. We have made them so fearful or litigation if one of our little people gets hurt, that there are now a huge amount of restrictions placed on outdoor play when it does happen.
Unfortunately, due the the factors mentioned, our children our facing a “nature deficit disorder”. This is termed a disorder because they need nature and the outdoors to develop normally and healthily. Play in the great outdoors supports development emotionally, intellectually, socially, and physically. It’s not something to be lightly dismissed. So, how is outdoor play more enriching than indoor play? Anything that can be done indoors, once taken into the great outdoors becomes more of an adventure, so naturally more fun to do, and ultimately they remember the experience more. The outdoors inspires them and challenges them to be more creative. With fewer rules, the children are freer to let their imaginations take over. They can challenge themselves more as well…..who doesn’t find climbing a tree a little thrilling and challenging (after all every tree is different). From this kind of play you then get all the advantages of taking risks (see a previous post on the advantages of children taking risks http://mammasschool.co.uk/parenting/take-a-risk-explore-inside-a-tree/ ), as well as creativity, learning to adapt to their environment, and to go at their own pace. The great outdoors provides the perfectly balanced sensory environment that at the same time has a calming effect (on the grown ups too – I am often able to cope better and be more patient outdoors with a trio who are less frustrated with each other, as there is the space to escape a situation if required). Outdoor play is also naturally more unstructured, and this in turn lends itself to more curiosity and exploration.
Exposure to outdoor play is vital for children’s health and development, and a lack of it can lead to increased emotional problems, increased health problems, and a lack of concentration. Recently, general awareness of children needing be outdoors has started to increase. However, it still needs a bit more of a push. You may or may not be aware of https://outdoorclassroomday.com/. They try and help give schools that extra impetus to get outdoors for the day and experience for themselves the theory in practice. They describe it as
“Outdoor Classroom Day is a day to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play. On Thursday 18 May 2017, thousands of schools around the world will take lessons outside and prioritise playtime.”
So, if you are a teacher, use that day to try it out. If you are a parent, make them aware of the date and offer support to help them provide this valuable resource for your child. Visit their website for more details on the when, where, and why fores 🙂 The effort of getting the children outdoors might sometimes seem like a step too far if they put up resistance or if we as parents are tired, but the rewards once you are out there are limitless. I urge you to go for it and experience for yourself what the outdoors can do for your children, and you as parents. I don’t mean you need to climb Mt. Everest, what I do mean is children need an outdoor space to play in, and if possible, left to their own devices for a good chunk of time!