The importance of outdoor play
The sight of children playing in the streets seems to be long gone in many parts of New Zealand, but the wane of outdoor play also means losing many of the learning benefits.
The great outdoors is one of the oldest play places in the world, where children play some of the most interesting games. Playing outside today is rare as children:
- Spend more time indoors in front of the television or computer and being ferried everywhere in the car.
- Parents worry about stranger danger and playing on roads (rightly so!) and tend to prefer our kids to be supervised indoors.
- Some experts say this "over-sanitised" approach is leading to the rise in learning and health conditions such as dyspraxia, asthma and obesity.
- Parents should, of course, protect their children by teaching them about stranger danger and road safety, but also find ways of making outdoor ‘free' play safe.
The fun of outdoor play
Besides being out in the fresh air, one of the big benefits of outdoor play versus indoor play is being free from parental and adult constraints. One theory says all the jeers, taunts, calls, rhymes and teasing that go on when adults aren't around actually give children the chance to:
- Understand complex speech and language patterns like phonology, lexis, grammar and syntax
- Develop more complex skills around friendships and social engagement
How parents can encourage their kids to play outside
Try these ideas to encourage outdoor play:
- Encourage young children to play outside at least once a day - even when the weather is bad. Children need to experience all types of weather, so don't allow bad weather to stop. Just dress appropriately.
- As your child gets older, teach them road safety skills and walk around your suburb with them to help them become streetwise and get to know people.
- Talk to your child about stranger danger and teach them what to do in an emergency.
- Look for places where your child can play outside, even if you don't have a backyard. Think about local parks or even on the footpath outside home if the street is generally free of traffic.
- Make sure your child knows how to travel by bus, tram or train by doing it regularly together.
- When children are old enough to go out alone develop a protocol: they should always let you know where they are going and with whom; check in regularly with you or other trusted adults.
- As children get older encourage them to go on ‘everyday adventures' and to take ‘safe risks'.
This article was written for Kidspot New Zealand.