Got kids? Grandkids? Nieces, nephews, cousins, Godchildren, friends with little ones, or anything in between? Then you have an idea about the outside play. You know it’s important, you know it’s fun, but you also know it can be difficult…the weather is a huge factor. But do we understand just how heavy an impact it has on our children’s lives?
National Geographic UK recently released a study highlighting the importance of outdoor play, noting that giving children the freedom to play outside is vital for their skills and social development. In a society where we are often pulled in more directions than we can manage it can be hard to find the time and energy. Even in schools, we are seeing a decline in scheduled outside play. Academic expectations take precedence over most others and so outdoor, free play is squeezed further and further out of the picture.
Outdoor play is being rapidly forced aside by over-scheduling, the pressure to perform in other areas, and disruptive technologies and lessening our children’s abilities and desires to explore, make their own rules, challenge themselves and connect with others. Studies have shown that future happiness and achievement can be linked to how much outside play a child experiences. Unscheduled, outside play is key in our children’s development so how do we get more?
The world can be an uneasy place, especially for parents releasing their children into it. With so many external, uncontrollable factors to consider, number one, of course, being safety. Can we see them, contact them? Is the area they are in safe from people, traffic, pollution, drugs? We know we cannot wrap them up in bubble wrap but if we only have one job, it is ultimately to keep our children safe. So how do we move forward and provide our children with the freedom of unstructured play while keeping them safe?
Mom/parent groups are now common, log onto Facebook, or connect with your local community to find other families with similar views. Build a relationship, get together regularly, maybe even trade supervision, allowing you to maintain the obligations that so often pull us inside and away from play but allowing your child to play safely and supervised.
Check-in with your local rec center, many now offer outdoor programming year-round and for all ages, these programs are typically accredited and well supervised by professionals.
Go to the woods, take a hike, have a picnic, pick up sticks, and jump over logs. You don’t have to go far to find a park or sliver of open space. That said, who says you can’t lay a blanket on the front lawn and share a sandwich and a game with the neighbor’s kids?
Schedule it in! Not always easy but studies have shown that if we commit to something in writing/in our schedule we are much more likely to stick to it. And finally, don’t forget about the backyard play.
There are a million ways we can offer unstructured free play in the comfort of our own backyards. Shop online much? Save those boxes for fort building. Let them get wet and dirty. Build an obstacle course or a hideaway. Build a playhouse, a treehouse, heck! Build them a pool, better yet a splash pad, the possibilities are limitless! Whatever your budget, whatever your motive, I think we can all agree that we could all benefit from enjoying a little more time outdoors.