Playing Outside: A Lost Art

5 May 2016 by , No Comments

Driving leisurely in my car one day, I heard a commercial on the radio. Two kids were playing video games – click, click, click. Their conversation flowed something like this
Where’s Tom?
He’s outside.
What’s outside?

I just about started to cry! Memories of my childhood flooded forward – playing hopscotch, skipping, tag, hunting tadpoles and frogs, hide and seek; oh I loved a muddy creek. Visuals of the long shadows of dusk and glowing red sunsets made me smile. I felt sad for the children of this generation
According to Sandra Hofferth and John Sandberg at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, one percent of children’s time is spent outdoors.

Why Is It A Lost Art

No one woke up one morning and declared “Children shall not play outdoors anymore”. It evolved due to more urban cities, less green space, stranger-danger – increased fears of bad things happening to kids plus the increased structured activities parents believe are important. And of course, I cannot forget to mention the dreaded electronics.
People are living hurried, fast paced lives, leaving families stressed, divorcing, fighting, and resorting to screen time to decompress. We are almost becoming robotic, being swept into the chaos of our frantic lifestyles. I constantly hear as a psychotherapist, ‘I don’t have time’, and I retort ‘well then, you soon may not be happy, possibly lose your partner nor have an intact family, it’s your choice’.

What are The Losses

Researcher and play expert, Anna Ludvigsen asserts “Playing…allows children to make mistakes and learn through trial and errors, which again helps them to recognize their limitations, as well as to discover their abilities. If play becomes too safe, it is not only predictable and boring, it also limits children’s practical experiences of risk management, and hence their ability to recognize and deal with risky situations”. The lack of child-driven play leads to lack of cognitive development such as creativity and imagination, increase in stress and decrease in laughter. Playing outside opens the door to exploring, curiosity, problem-solving, language development, memory and attention and reduction of attention deficit disorder.

Given the planet’s environmental issues, it is crucial that children respect, enjoy and fall in love with nature. Louise Chawla’s article in The Journal of Environmental Education, states that “unstructured childhood play in natural settings has been found to be the most common influence on the development of life-long conservation values.” Children need to love nature in order to want to protect and nurture it. This isn’t going to happen if kids are indoors 99 percent of the time.

Lack of Outdoor Play is A Health Time Bomb For Children

This was an article header after an international conference in Bristol. They promoted that youth are experiencing heart problems, diabetes and obesity because of their sedentary lifestyles.
Mental health experts are also concerned as the rise of mental illness is significantly increasing in children and youth. Psychologist and author, Peter Gray worries that the decline in play, whereby children learn to solve their own problems and control their lives, contributes to the incline of mental health issues. The significant increase in children’s structured lives – school most of the day and structured activities after school and on weekends – has diminished their sense of control and their joy of exploring and discovering.

The American Medical Association promotes that “children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors”.

It’s Never Too Late

As parents and teachers, you are the CEO’s of your families and classes, thus you must take the lead on this. Yes, some children will complain, groan and want to play video games. That’s what they know. They don’t understand the advantages yet and they really don’t get the many disadvantages. You need to educate them now.

I found a wonderful article called ‘A Parent’s Guide To Nature Play: How to Give Your Children More Outdoor Play’. The author, Ken Finch suggests creative ideas such as kidscaping your backyard, providing butterly nets, binoculars, bug cages and shovels; becoming involved with creating nature spaces at schools or neighborhood green space is a start.

Play is not a frivolous thing! It is crucial for our children’s health, social and emotional development. Children have very vivid imaginations and love fantasy which we need to support and encourage as parents and teachers. Allow your children to be your teacher in seeing the magic of the outdoors and living fully in the present moment.

Published in Wanderlust Magazine: Life, Travel, Healthy Living (April 2016)

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