In a world where playing outdoors is being replaced more and more by indoor or technology assisted activities, what is there to lose for the children?
Firstly, is the time kids spent outside really decreasing?
Research shows that as early as the `99s, 40% of Japanese children from metropolitan and rural areas preferred playing indoors rather than outdoors, and 70% said that what they do most with their free time is watching TV1. A study from 2004 shows that only around a third of the children in US play outside daily. These kids spend 29% less time than their guardians when they were little, playing chasing and fleeing games. Moreover, only a bit over a half of them are playing make-believe games regularly2.
Considering that these data are pretty old, we might be thinking that things got better in the last years. Well, guess again. A British survey shows in 2016 that almost three quarters of the UK children spend less time outdoor than prison inmates3.
Is this really something we should worry about?
Playing outside helps children learn necessary and useful skills for their adult life, including social competence, problem solving, creative thinking and safety skills4,5,6. The decrease in children engaged in imaginative play is also of concern because made-up games influence how kids understand society, their inventiveness, language development, the use of symbols, their ability to understand the world and it gives opportunities for the young ones to imitate and interpret adult behaviour7,8,9,10.
While getting muddy and discovering nature your children also grow emotionally and academically by developing an appreciation for the environment, engaging in imaginative play, developing initiative and understanding basic academic concepts such as objects’ proprieties or using simple tools to get a task done7,8,11.
Between the ages of 3 and 12, a child’s body is getting through its greatest physical growth that comes with a urge to run, climb and jump12,13,14. By providing your children a proper environment for doing this freely you do not only help them grow strong, but also support the healthy development of their heart, lungs and other vital organs. Take the digestive system as an example, active play stimulates it and helps improve appetite, ensuring continued strength and bodily growth15,16.
What can we do about it?
Fortunately, putting together some outdoor activities to enjoy with your children is not complicated nor is it expensive. Actually, it is way cheaper than most toys or electronic games. All you need is a bit of time and imagination. Here are some suggestions of seasonal activities recommended in Jennifer Ward’s book17 to boost your kid’s creativity, curiosity, observation skills, imagination, physical condition, ability to relax, knowledge of objects proprieties, basic knowledge about natural phenomena, sense of adventure, awareness and appreciation of animal and plant life and much more.
These are only some of the things you can do with your kids to show them the wonders of outside playing. You can always take a break from your busy life and spend some quality time bonding with them.
Have the advantage of enjoying the fresh air while helping your children to learn new things.
1. Benesse Corporation (1999) Kodomo tachi no asobi monogurafu shogakusei nau [Children’s play in elementary grade schools], vol. 19(1). Tokyo: Benesse Educational Research Center.
2. Clements, R. (2004). An investigation of the status of outdoor play. Contemporary issues in early childhood, 5(1), 68-80.
3. Survey commissioned by the laundry detergent brand Persil as a part of its "Dirt is Good" campaign supported by previous work, including government reports
4. Miller, K. (1989) The Outside Play and Learning Book: activities for young children. Beltsville: Gryphon House.
5. Moore, R.C. & Wong, H.H. (1997) Natural Learning: the life history of an environmental schoolyard. Berkeley: MIG.
6. Rivkin, M.S. (1995) The Great Outdoors: restoring children’s right to play outside. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
7. Guddemi, M. & Eriksen, A. (1992) Designing Outdoor Learning Environments for and with Children, Dimensions of Early Childhood, 20(4), pp. 15-24.
8. Singer, D. & Singer, J. (2000) Make-believe: games and activities for imaginative play. Washington, DC: Magination Press.
9. Bergen, D. (2002) The Role of Pretend Play in Children’s Cognitive Development, Early Childhood Research and Practice, 4(1). Available at: www. ecrp.uiuc.edu/v4n1/ bergen.html
10. Perry, J.P. (2003) Making Sense of Outdoor Pretend Play, Young Children, 58(3), pp. 26-30.
11. Kosanke, N. & Warner, N. (1990) Creative Play Areas. Nashville: School-Age Notes.
12. Noland, M., Danner, F., Dewalt, K., McFadden, M. & -Kotchen, J.M. (1990) The Measurement of Physical Activity in Young Children, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 61, pp. 146-153.
13. Kalish, S. (1995) Your Child’s Fitness: practical advice for parents. Champaign: Human Kinetics.
14. Cooper, K.H., Schwarzenegger, A. & Proctor, W. (1999) Fit Kids! The Complete Shape-up Program from Birth Through High School. Nashville: Broadman & Holman.
15. Clements, R. (1998) Wanted: strong children with healthy imaginations, Playground Post (Long Island: Playground Environments)
16. Pica, R. (2003) Your Active Child: how to boost physical, emotional, and cognitive development through age-appropriate activity. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
17. Ward, J. (2008). I love dirt!: 52 activities to help you and your kids discover the wonders of nature. Shambhala Publications.