Why is outdoor play important?
What is outdoor play? Outdoor play is defined simply as “play activities that occur outside of a building”. Occupational Therapists, Allied health professionals and Teachers alike all recommend children should be exposed to outdoor play due to the overwhelming benefits and the ability to learn different skills.
What are the benefits of outdoor play? The list of benefits is quite lengthy! Mostly when we think of outdoor play we think of the development of gross motor skills or use of the larger muscle groups to run, skip, hop and jump. As I said there are many more and here are a few:
- Outdoor play is less structured so it provides greater opportunity for discovery and exploration. This provides children with a sense of freedom as parents are generraly less restrictive and allows them to express their personalities, play with more enthusiasm and a higher energy level. Exploration of the outside envirnoment commonly leads to increased opportunity for imaginary play and sensory exposure. Sensory exposure is created naturally by children playing with toys on different surfaces such as; grass, dirt, slipper dips/slides, moving swings and the sides of trees.
- Outdoor play helps children to learn their own emotional capabilities and how they fit into the world… How high can I swing? How high can I climb? What happens when I throw this rock into the pond? By doing this each child discovers how to use social skills to interacte and play with others and how to play with rules.
- A different set of social skills are formed outdoors as the need for different actions are required by changing the volume of our voice, we are able to run place rather than walk and we have a choice of friends to play with, with varying skill sets.
- Outdoor play enables children to learn academically without them knowing. For example; children learn about space, time, volume and distance differently…How long does it take for me to run across the playground? How much water can I fit into my cup? How much water can I pour from my cup to another?
Why are children not achieving these outdoor play skills? More and more children are not developing these outdoor play skills at age appropriate levels for many reasons. Society and culture has seen an increase in technology use, unsafe neighbourhoods, living in apartments or complexes without backyards, there is less play equipment within school playgrounds, increased rules at school breaks due to WH&S that are making it more structured and busy and tired parents.
So in our busy lives how are we able to provide adequate outdoor play? The local park is always a great place to start! Or national parks and anywhere that is easily accessible for you as parents to reach. Once you are there your children will do the rest. We encourage supervision whilst your children are playing outdoors to ensure that play doesn’t get to rough or unsafe.
Outdoor play is complex. Because children experience fewer and fewer opportunities to explore and because outdoor play is part of being a child we must find a variety of ways to provide quality outdoor play experiences. It is even more important as Early Intervention programs are becoming more academic focused and WH&S regulations are increasing.
So when you can encourage your children to play outdoors, kick a ball around, play on teh swings, ride a bike, spend time exploring the garden let their imagination guide them……