With new technologies constantly being created, children are increasingly turning to digital as a source of entertainment. Phones, tablets, video games, movies and tv streaming – it’s now a lot easier to get instant entertainment and instant gratification.
According to the 2016 National Trust survey of 1,000 Australian parents, children nowadays only spend on average four hours a week outdoors. It’s not just because of increased access to technology, but also due to the fear parents have of children being outside in an unsafe world and the shift to high-density apartment living with smaller backyards.
There are so many benefits to outdoor play; it lets children recharge, enhances their wellbeing, strengthens their ability to learn, gives them a deeper connection to their environment, and much more. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty and uncover why it’s really beneficial for our kids, and just how we can get them out and about.
Part One: The Importance of Outdoor Play
Creating healthy bodies
Children need to keep active while they develop, and outdoor play is the perfect place for them to do it. By running, jumping, climbing or skipping, a child develops their gross motor muscles, balance, and coordination. But it’s so much more to it than just being active when we talk about health. The right amount of sun exposure helps them get their daily dose of vitamin D, vital for strong bones, to fight diseases, and to support emotional wellbeing. Plus, playing in the dirt can help children build immunity against allergens. According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, children who are exposed to allergens before the age of one are less likely to develop allergies as they grow. As if you didn’t need any more reasons, here’s another: open spaces help develop long-distance vision.
Developing healthy minds
A recent study by the University of Essex in England found that a 45-minute walk in nature reduced depression scores in 71 percent of participants. Researchers compared this with a control group who took a walk in a shopping centre and found that only 45 percent of the shopping centre walkers had reduced depression, while 22 percent felt more depressed. Young people and adults alike are now turning to ‘Green Therapy’ or ‘Ecotherapy’, which is becoming a trend for improving mental wellbeing and helping prevent anxiety and depression.
Fostering learning and development
With outdoor play, children are able to approach and manage risk more often. This is when a child sets challenges, becomes aware of their limits, and pushes their abilities at their own pace. This is very important in the development of a child. They will most definitely make mistakes along the way, but this is all part of the learning process, and allowing them to do this builds their confidence. It may also alleviate the desire to take reckless risks once they become teenagers.
Entertainment for all seasons
The outdoors offers children a dynamic and ever-changing environment. The different seasons carry with them changes in smell, sound, colour, and feel. As long as parents have prepared their kids with appropriate attire for the season, you’ll both be ready to head out into the fresh air of the outdoors. In a study conducted in Scandinavia, children were found to have stronger immune systems when they slept outside in prams than children who were cooped up in artificially heated environments. Now there’s as good a reason as any to get out and about!
Part Two: Tips for letting children ‘be’ in nature
To optimize a child’s learning experience outdoors, parents and guardians need to allow children time to explore, use their imaginations, and to get a bit grimy. Saying “Don’t climb too high” or “no playing with sticks” too often could stifle creative play. It’s time to step back a bit and let your child explore. But where and how you ask? Even if you don’t have access to a big backyard, there are a lot of things you can do to ensure your child spends quality time in nature. Here’s a couple of tips…
Tip #1: Parks and trails
Australia has a wide range of parks and open spaces where children can connect with nature, explore, and discover. As parents, you could research playgrounds or parks online and pick different places to visit during the weekends. Nature reserves, beaches, rivers, and creeks are good places to start.
Tip #2: Grow your own Greens
If parks or green spaces are difficult for you to get to, why not create your own at home? Growing herbs and plants in pots or old containers give your kids the chance to nurture their own greenery, with the added benefit that you may get a helping hand when it comes to making dinner from the veggies and herbs you’re growing!
Tip #3: Neighbourhood Walks
10 minute walks around your neighborhood is an opportunity for your child to learn about plants, trees and wildlife in your area and gives an insight into the local environment. It’s also great to teach them about looking out for cars, how to interact with people’s dogs, and to find new green places even you didn’t know about.
Tip #4: Choose the right early childhood services
If you are going to choose an early childhood service for your child, try to look into its philosophy on outdoor play. Nature programs are available for children which will allow them to explore in supervised spaces. Bush Kinder is a good example.
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