What if there was an easy, inexpensive, and fun solution to stem some of the major challenges like obesity, anxiety, and depression affecting children and youth today? Imagine if it could also promote brain health, creativity, and academic achievement and prepare our children for the rapidly-changing workforce.
This fix-all solution couldn’t be more simple. It is playing outside. Our fondest memories of childhood are spent time outdoors, running about with friends in the neighborhood, parks, and wild places, making up the rules as we went along with little, if any, adult supervision. Roaming free outdoors is the very essence of childhood.
The Magic of Outdoor Play
- Getting their hands in the dirt exposes them to microbes that help them build their immunity
- They learn to make their own goals and figure out how to attain those goals, thereby helping them build executive function skills
- They learn to build resilience and develop their social skills. Along the way, they gain the ability to manage risks and keep themselves safe
- It also helps combat short-sightedness by giving their eyes the exercise they need
Governments see it outdoor play as an effective way of getting kids active and averting the obesity crisis. For schools and early childhood centers, it is a productive way of promoting academic and socio-emotional learning. Corporations see it as a valuable way of preparing children for the jobs of the future that will focus on creativity, empathy, and connection with others. Children just see it as a way of being happy and free.
Parents Must Let Go of their fears
The essential ingredients for supporting children’s outdoor play are time, space, and freedom.
Kids need valuable time to be able to play outside. In schools, that would mean recess policies that get kids outside every day, so they can use the outdoors as an opportunity for learning and limiting homework. At home, that would mean setting up scheduled structured activities and limiting screen time.
Kids require quality outdoor spaces to play in. It should be a space where all children feel welcome, regardless of their abilities and backgrounds. In cities, that would mean converting spaces to allow play to happen everywhere, not just parks and playgrounds. It is important to design inclusive and child-friendly cities so that kids feel welcome everywhere and can easily access nature.
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 of injuries and kidnapping and realize how the benefits of kids getting out to play outweigh the risks.