The Where of Balanced Play
Outdoor play, especially with other children, is really important for a child’s development. When they are outside, they don’t need as much entertainment and will make up their own games which are great for developing their creativity and imagination.
Active, outdoor, and social play can be considered a superfood of the play diet. If a child is running around and getting rid of excess energy, they will be hungry so they’ll eat better, and they will be worn out, so they’ll sleep better. Mealtime and bedtime battles are reduced, and a good night’s sleep will mean the next day they will wake up recharged, re-energised, and ready to take on the day.
They also develop a range of skills when playing freely with friends, including communication, negotiation, empathy, initiative, compromise, imagination, problem solving and so many more.
Reviving Outdoor Play: Embracing Nature for Children’s Health and Wellbeing
Nature Deficit Disorder is the idea that people, especially children, are spending less time than ever outdoors in natural environments and that the impact of this could have detrimental effects on their health and wellbeing. Ideally children will have a balance of indoor and outdoor play, but a greater amount of outdoor play. Spending time outside is incredibly important for children for many different reasons;
Obviously playing outdoors benefits children’s physical health. Running, jumping, climbing etc can help prevent childhood obesity, strengthen bones and muscles and improve cardiovascular health. Adequate exposure to sunlight also helps children to get enough vitamin D which helps bone growth, muscle function and supports the development of a strong immune system. Natural settings can also calm the mind and help us to feel happy and relaxed. Exposure to sunlight increases serotonin levels which helps reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Playing outside also provides an opportunity for children to explore and take risks in a way that’s not possible if they are indoors – If a child never takes risks when climbing a tree, how will they ever learn to climb it?
If possible, it is good to give your child a variety of outdoor play opportunities, not just the back garden or the local park. The countryside, woodland, a beach, are all wonderful environments for children to explore. Walk to places you would normally drive or take the bus to and play when you’re on the go; the more fun it is, the more willing your child will be. Play I-Spy as you walk to school or go on a scavenger hunt as you walk through the park, asking your child to spot a bird, flower, insect etc.
When children are outside they are using multimodal learning which means that a number of senses are engaged, such as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic which helps them to process and remember information more easily. Moving, touching, smelling etc makes the whole experience richer and so much more engaging than sitting on a chair at a table. So help them to form habits with outdoor play – the more you can encourage them to play outside, the more they will want to do it, but if they need coaxing away from the screen, technology could actually help to support your child’s outdoor learning.
Geocaching and games like Pokemon Go are popular and a good way to entice children into nature who aren’t usually keen to do so, but remember if you are using a device, it’s important to strike a balance between screen times and real-world outdoor experiences.
Best of Both Worlds: Embracing the Advantages of Indoor Play for Children
Although playing outside is extremely beneficial for children, indoor play also has its positives;
Indoor play tends to be calmer and more controlled, providing an environment where children can fully immerse themselves in their play. This calmness allows children to be more focused and helps them to concentrate on the task at hand.
Being inside also provides a safer setting for children, giving parents peace of mind knowing their child is protected from potential hazards and dangers typically found outdoors, and they don’t have to constantly supervise their child.
But inside isn’t just one place – play can happen in the different rooms of the house, from messy play in the kitchen, to den building with the sofa cushions and board games around the table. Bath time is a great time for playful fun with young children and builds up their confidence in water and you can use the time to teach them about hygiene.
Children also spend a lot of time on the go. Making trips into play opportunities can help minimise boredom and long journeys are a great opportunity for some deep and meaningful conversations when there are no distractions. Travel games and activities can support children’s learning and help them manage their boredom.
While indoor play has its benefits, outdoor play offers a huge range of advantages for a child’s development that we have covered above. So, whenever possible, try to prioritise outdoor play in your child’s routine as it can have a profound impact on their physical, social and mental growth.