The Importance of Outdoor Play
Over the last 20-30 years, there has been a huge shift in our society. The typical connotations we used to associate with childhood are fading away. Huge developments in technology has meant that childhood now involves excessive use of TVs, smartphones/tablets and computers. Pair this with the extraordinarily high expectation on children to perform well academically, and we are now left with a society where children spend less and less time outdoors.
I can imagine that, when you think about your own childhood, it was full of opportunities that only existed outdoors. I know from personal experience that many hours were spent building dens, riding bikes, roller blading, or using my own imagination to create fun and games.
The developmental needs of children have not changed over the years. Society, on the other hand, has changed significantly in a short space of time. Concerns around safety outside of the family home, coupled with a growing interest in computer games, TV and tablets has contributed to our children living sedentary lives where opportunities to access outdoor spaces have been reduced or in some cases diminished.
The change in our society and lifestyle has contributed toward the obesity crisis that now faces the UK. What is quite startling is the young age at which children are now being defined as ‘obese’.
As childhood obesity has become more common, our society has grown to accept fat, inactive children as normal.
“In 2012/13 almost a quarter of UK children started school classified as being overweight and nearly 10% were clinically obese. These figures rise to a third of children being overweight and almost 20% being obese at Year 6 age 10)” – National Child Measurement Programme
Ensuring that children from the very youngest of ages have access to the outdoors, away from the distractions that we often use to entertain children, is an important aspect of modern parenting. As parents, we must act as the role models that our children need for them to make positive lifestyle choices that will last throughout their lives.
The Outdoor Environment
Skills such as jumping, running, climbing, shouting, rolling, hiding and feeling free to make a mess on a much larger scale are all things that defined the majority of our own childhoods, and essentially define childhood. A real sense of freedom, adventure, experimentation, risk taking and being children can be gained from access to the outdoor environment.
At each of our nurseries, you can be assured that all children from babies to pre-school children have the opportunity every day to access the outdoors. What you may find interesting is that this is not weather-permitting. Yes, that’s right. Our children go outside in all weathers.
Think about the learning opportunities that children have in different weathers:
- The rain: You can’t splash in puddles without rain.
- The cold: You can’t see your breath as you breathe if it’s not cold outside.
Things that we take for granted can only be discovered and truly understood when children are in a natural environment. I am sure that many of us can remember being told to put our coats on before going outside, yet we hadn’t even noticed how cold it was due to the amount of fun we were having.
Outdoor play has many benefits, not only for children’s physical health but for their emotional wellbeing, too. Below are my top 5 reasons for spending more time outdoors:
- Children sleep better when they have accessed the outdoors: Research shows that babies and young children sleep better at night if they’ve had some fresh air. In some countries, children sleep outdoors in -16 degree temperatures – something that many of us wouldn’t dream of. However, when I had my little boy, I wrapped him up warm and put a fly net over his pram, and I was amazed at how well he slept.
- Some children learn better in the outdoors: Children need the freedom that the outdoors bring. The opportunity to experience things that they could not indoors. Most of the gross motor skills that we need as adults are nurtured and developed through children being able to use their whole bodies. For our youngest children, this may be being able to crawl or walk further than they could inside. For older children, the outdoors provide opportunities to jump, run and climb.
- Healthy lifestyle: Getting outdoors with your child can help them burn off surplus energy and encourages them to adopt a healthy lifestyle; something that will last into adulthood.
- Understanding the environment: Children learn about the natural world around them by being exposed to it. Teaching children about their environment and how to look after it can be fully appreciated when outdoors. This is something that is going to be very important for the next generation, with threats to our environment already a concern for us all.
If you enjoyed this blog post, take a look at what else we have written about here on Reading Corner.