Roaming free outdoors is the very essence of childhood. Our fondest memories of childhood are spent time outdoors, running about with friends in the neighbourhood, parks, and wild places.
However, kids and teens today spend over 7 hours a day on average in front of screens – television, smartphones, tablets, and more. Besides this, kids are living in an age of standardized testing and intense academic competition, that leaves them with limited or no time to play outdoors.
Children’s free playtime with other children has declined sharply in the past 50 years. Over the same years, that recess and playtime have declined, there have been rises in mental health issues sharply in children, adolescents, and young adults.
The Magic of Outdoor Play
The easy, inexpensive, and fun solution to stop some of the major challenges like obesity, anxiety, and depression affecting children and youth today couldn’t be simpler. It is playing outside.
- Kids learn to make their own goals and figure out how to attain those goals, thereby helping them build executive function skills
- Children learn to build resilience and develop their social skills. Along the way, they gain the ability to manage risks and keep themselves safe.
- Play promotes brain health, creativity, and academic achievement and prepares our children for the rapidly-changing workforce.
Here are 3 crucial steps to ensure your child reaps the benefits of playtime:
Kids need valuable time to be able to play outside. Every child requires at least 60 minutes of free play each day, preferably outdoors. In schools that would mean recess policies that get kids outside every day, so they can use the outdoors as an opportunity for learning. At home, that would mean setting up scheduled structured activities and limiting screen time. Playtime should never be withheld as a way to punish a child.
Kids require quality outdoor spaces to play in. It should be a space where all children feel welcome, regardless of their abilities and backgrounds.
When it comes to a play area, it should be a safe place that is an easy walk from their homes. It’s better if these playgrounds are integrated with natural settings. One way of significantly increasing available play space is keeping school playgrounds open for afterschool and weekend play. By creating safe routes to schools and parks, children will have the opportunity to walk and bike more freely.
One of the biggest barriers to children’s ability to play the way they want to play is adults. As adults, we need to let go of our excessive fears concerning the safety of our children and realize how the benefits of kids getting out to play outweigh the risks.
It is only natural to be concerned about the safety of your child. Children need adult oversight in order to play safely. Staff and volunteers can be trained to support children’s play without directing or dominating it. They can assist during recess, as well as before and after school and on weekends and holidays. This can happen not just in schools but also in parks, zoos, museums, recreation centres, and other play structure where children gather for play and enjoyment.
Playtime isn’t just something children like to do—it’s something they need to do. Playtime keeps kids physically active, exercises their minds and their creativity. More importantly, play teaches children how to work together. Therefore, if we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time and opportunity to play, not less.