For many parents, there’s a real fear that our children’s overuse and reliance on technology will have a negative impact on their personal development, health and wellbeing. With such a shift towards unhealthy, sedentary activities, the questions we should be asking are: how important is outdoor play for children and are our kids getting enough of it?
It certainly seems that many children lack enough outdoor play in their daily activities; many often favour staying indoors, playing on the computer, games consoles or other gadgets. Outdoor play, which can encompass a wide range of activities, from team sports, family walks and garden play can often be harder to encourage.
Studies have analysed the importance of technology in children’s development, especially in the technologically advanced world which we live in today. But just how important is playing outside for children’s happiness, health, and development?
Should you be worried about the lack of outdoor play?
Extensive independent research, commissioned by ESP Play and carried out by Liverpool John Moores University, discovered that even during school PE lessons, children spent 68% of the time being stationary. This obviously raises real concerns for parents. Is PE in our schools sufficiently physical to provide our children with the exercise they need? It looks like we might be overestimating the workout they receive; certainly not the two hours a week we thought they were entitled too.
We also need to ask ourselves, as parents, whether the decrease in outdoor play at home affects our children’s ability to interact and enjoy PE at school. If it does, what are we doing about it?
Why is outdoor play important for your child’s development?
Open air activities often involve team sports, which are beneficial not only for children’s health but also for developing people skills and critical skills such as team-building or supporting friends and team members. Although technology is brilliant for developing skill sets, it often doesn’t help children to support each other or to encourage those who are less confident. Nor does it enable children to recognise differences in people’s skills and how, by combining them, they can create a stronger team.
In response to their research findings, ESP installed multi-skills zones in schools. As a result, physical activity levels among children increased by 7.5%, suggesting that the zones helped to encourage children to play together and enjoy outdoor play.
Through using multi-skill zones, children build relationships with each other and show an increased enjoyment of open-air physical activities, resulting in an increased desire to play outdoors again. The more they enjoy and repeat this, the more physical activity they do, thus decreasing the risk of childhood obesity and other health problems. It is also likely that the formation of relationships and enjoyment will continue into adult life and enable children to continue to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
How can you increase your child’s outdoor play?
When it comes to playing out of doors, most of us put safety first. We need to consider both the local neighbourhood and the safety of the environment. So, even if we don’t feel happy letting the children ‘play out’ in they way we did when we were children, we can still provide lots of outdoor activities under supervision; whether it’s in the garden, the park, or elsewhere. Indeed, ESP’s research found that the more adults who were supervising, the more physical activity the children undertook. So, meeting up with other families at the park is a great way to reap the enjoyable benefits of the outdoor environment.
If you are looking for specific activities, how about a game of football, cricket, or rounders which all of the family can enjoy? Or why not get involved in a children’s team sport and encourage them at training and match events. Other ideas which may increase outdoor play include walking family pets and cycling on a nature trail which encourage children to enjoy the great outdoors with friends and family.
Outside of the immediate benefits of improved health and personal development, there are several other advantages to outdoor play for children. These include the stimulation received from experiencing nature and an improvement in environmental awareness.
It is easy to see just how important play is for children’s physical and personal development and with what we now know about the state of physical education, it is obvious that more needs to be done to encourage children to play outdoors more often if we are to enhance their health and wellbeing. If schools and parents work effectively together to offer the required encouragement, children’s outdoor activity levels can only go one way… up!