Compared to their grandparents would have spent most of their free time exploring the world outside their front doors, kids these days are more likely to be found at home.
Computer games, television and tablets have replaced pooh sticks, tree climbing and den building, as children spend more time indoors.
Thanks to parental fear and a reduction in green spaces, the time that is spent outdoors tends to be parent led nowadays.
Parent led play is very different to unstructured play, and does not offer the same benefits.
Both are important for child development, but many families are finding less time for unstructured play. As homework, clubs and groups, and screens are competing for our kids’ time, unstructured fun is left out in the cold.
Scientists have even coined the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ thanks to the wealth of health problems that can arise from spending too much time indoors.
Unstructured play is just as important as outdoor play for child development. It offers social, mental and physical benefits, as well as just being a fun way to kill time.
Here are five reasons why your kids should be enjoying a daily dose of unstructured play time in the great outdoors:
#1: It’s Energy Burning Exercise
With less time spent outdoors, and more time spent staring at screens, it’s no wonder we’re facing an obesity crisis. Poor diet, misinformation and lack of exercise are leaving many kids overweight. Children should be active for at least an hour a day, and that means running, climbing and jumping.
Many parents choose to send their kids to sports classes, but the time spent actually moving around isn’t always that long (for example, a 45 minute gymnastics lesson could amount to just 15 minutes of activity for your child). Encourage your child to spend time outside each day to let off steam.
#2: Big Benefits For Physical And Emotional Health
Nature can have a surprising effect on health, which you may already know if you read BellyBelly’s article on how green spaces improve birth outcomes. Spending time outdoors has been found to increase lifespan, reduce symptoms of depression and decrease smoking rates. Outdoor play can also reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Time spent outdoors can also reduce stress levels and anxiety.
The sensory experience of being outdoors, the wind rustling in the trees, feeling sand running through your fingers, and the warmth of the sun on your skin, is thought to encourage relaxation. Spending time outdoors is also thought to be beneficial for immunity development due to factors such as the very important vitamin D. Find out more about this and all the other health benefits associated with outdoor childhood play here. For more information on the health benefits associated with being outdoors, take a look at this detailed research study.
#3: It Connects Kids To Nature
Unsurprisingly, kids who spend more time outside feel more connected to nature. Spending time in nature helps us to value the importance of the world around us, and can encourage us to be mindful of our impact on the planet.
The next generation is likely to face global temperature increases, an increase in climate change related extreme weather patterns, and over fishing. And they’ll need as many nature lovers as possible to help them try to protect the planet before it’s too late.
#4: It’s Beneficial For Skills Development
Through unstructured play, children learn various important life skills. From problem solving to creativity, social skills to negotiation, free play gives children the opportunity to engage in various skills. When playing with others, children learn self-control and how to follow rules. When playing alone, they are free to explore and imagine as they wish. By climbing trees, jumping through puddles and playing chase, children learn how to assess risks.
#5: It Encourages Creativity
Outdoor play fosters creativity because it acts as a blank canvas. In your house, your child may have access to a plastic sword, a wooden play house and a hobby horse, but outside your child will have to use her imagination. Sticks can easily become wands, broomsticks and telescopes, while bushes make the perfect dens, caves and cages. Outdoor play offers your child creative freedom, allowing her to turn it into whatever she wants it to be.
Unstructured outdoor play offers an array of health, social and developmental benefits to your child. Even just an hour outside each day could be beneficial, so try to include outdoor time as part of your daily routine. It could be a trip to the park after school, an evening stroll around your neighbourhood after dinner, or an afternoon of running riot in the local woodlands. There are plenty of options for getting out and about, and you’ll also get to reap the benefits of spending more time in nat