Over half of children spend an hour or less a day playing outside – that’s less than the average maximum-security prisoner in America! There are several reasons for this: an increase in screen time, greater emphasis on scheduled activities and achievements, and a shortage of safe outdoor spaces to play.
But there are also several reasons why children MUST play outside:
Development: Play is a primary way that children learn about themselves and the world around them. Unstructured outdoor play allows children the freedom to explore, create and discover without predetermined rules or guidelines, and is a valuable component of their emotional, academic and physical development. In addition, playing outside teaches children essential life skills such as how to plan, troubleshoot, and negotiate.
Exercise: Outdoor play encourages active play, which is fantastic for developing physical abilities. Running, jumping and playing ball games not only strengthen muscles, but also improve gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination and overall health and wellbeing. In addition, outdoor play helps children release pent-up energy, and as little as 20 minutes of active outdoor play has been linked to a boost in brain function afterward.
Creativity: Playing outdoors is great for encouraging children’s creativity. Away from the constraints and confinement of being indoors and without hovering parents, many children will find unexpected and alternate uses for toys and everyday objects. Outdoors, they can let their imagination run wild!
Socialisation: Children need to learn to make friends, to share and cooperate. They are usually more willing to join in games and activities when playing outdoors, and they are also more likely to talk to different children and make new friends. As such, outdoor play teaches children vital social skills, such as how to take turns and treat others.
Risk-taking: Outdoor play helps children take risks and learn about their own abilities – they discover how high they can climb, how well they can balance, how fast they can run and what it feels like to roll down a hill. If children don’t learn to take risks, they may not develop the confidence needed to face life’s inevitable risks. Yes, they can be humiliated when they try to make a friend and get rejected, and they can even break an arm or a leg while playing outside. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try; the lessons they learn from failure are just as important as those they learn from success.
Independence: Outside play teaches children to pick themselves up when they fall, and to negotiate unfamiliar situations. It also teaches them to explore new activities and become confident in trying new things without being guided by adults. This helps build independence and self-reliance.
Nature: The future of our planet depends on our children; they need to learn to appreciate it. If children grow up never digging in dirt, seeing animals in their natural habitat, climbing hills and trees or splashing in the sea, they will never really understand what is at stake. Children who play outside are more aware of nature and their environment.
So, for the sake of your children, do what your parents did and send them outside. Even better, go with them!
Outdoor Classroom Day is a global teacher-led campaign taking place on 1 November. It will see schools around the world swap the inside for the outside by taking learning into the playground, and making playtime a key part of the school day. For more information or to sign up, visit https://outdoorclassroomday.com
By Danielle Barfoot