*Collaborative Guest Post*
During a busy week, it can be hard to find the time to get outdoors. But, while we may be content as adults to stay inside, it is imperative that children are given the opportunity to spend time outside. Outdoor play is a fundamental part of growing up; without it, children miss out on the vital skills needed to become healthy and happy adults. Although we may label it as “child’s play”, there is actually a lot of effort and learning that goes into the process.
Unfortunately, in today’s society, a quarter of children are only getting around 30 minutes of outdoor play a week. That’s less than some prison inmates get! While parents are concerned about the lack of time their children spend outside, not enough is being done to increase it. On average, children spend around 6 hours a day playing on tablets, watching TV and gaming on their laptops.
Outdoor play equipment is no longer top of the Christmas shopping list, as children receive more and more entertainment opportunities indoors. But, if this trend continues, what exactly are our children missing out on?
Outdoor Play Builds A Healthy Body And Mind
We are all aware of the benefits of exercise from a young age. However, outdoor play is not only about keeping children active. It also builds important emotional, social and cognitive skills.
As your child plays, they learn to self-regulate, problem-solve independently and get to grips with the idea of empathy and cooperation. These are the attributes that will help them transition into healthy, self-sufficient individuals. Although some of these lessons may be taught through other mediums like computer games, these don’t offer the same level of interaction. You can’t form an emotional bond with an iPhone, no matter how attached to it you get.
It’s become far too easy to demote the importance of outdoor play. Sixty-six percent of us are worried we don’t spend enough time playing with our children. But outdoor play doesn’t always need to be adult-led. Unstructured play is just as critical for early stage development. Children should be allowed their independence even as infants, with free play proven to be a powerful tool for learning. As parents, all we need to do is provide them with the opportunities to exercise this autonomy.
Just to put it into perspective, here’s a list of all the benefits regular outdoor play has to offer:
* Physical fitness – outdoor play reduces the chances of obesity, boosts the immune system, increases vitamin D levels and strengthens core motor skills.
* Mental Health – outdoor play can relieve stress and help children with attention deficit disorders or social anxiety burn off some of that nervous energy
* Cognitive Development – outdoor play focuses children, encourages independent learning and promotes creativity
* Social Development – outdoor play encourages children to share and collaborate, work together as a team and negotiate and resolve their own conflicts.
* Emotional Development – outdoor play enables children to understand tricky concepts such as empathy, come to terms with their fears and regulate their own emotions.
Opportunities For Outdoor Play Are Everywhere
Bearing in mind that outdoor play needn’t be rigorously structured, the chances for your child to get hands-on with nature are limitless. From simple activities in the garden to climbing frames and sand and water pits in the playground, outdoor play is an abundant resource. Wherever a child’s imagination can be sparked, the opportunity for useful play exists.
We should never underestimate a child’s capacity for pretend play, especially since it is such an effective form of learning. Children can turn logs into animals, play equipment into fortresses and woodland into entire kingdoms. They don’t need us to dictate their games for them, just so long as we are enthusiastic about taking part.
Far too many of us feel pressurised into providing constant entertainment for our children, when the right opportunities are already out there. While trips to the cinema or the arcade are stimulating in their own right, they don’t hold the same natural, priceless values as the great outdoors. Children need time to explore and investigate the natural world for themselves. Even if the walk to school is the only time you’re able to encourage your child to play up, it can make all the difference.
For happy and healthy children, green-time over screen-time is always the way forward.
Author Bio: Sam Flatman is an outdoor learning specialist and an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play. Sam has been designing school playground equipment for the past ten years and has a passion for outdoor education. He believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which should be integrated into the school curriculum at every opportunity.
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