Last Updated: February 9, 2021
Life in the 21st Century is quite exciting yet worrisome because of the influence of technology and urbanization. Technology devices are now compulsory tools, while urbanization is squeezing every inch of space out of homesteads. Families now have less time to associate and worse, limited options for children playing outdoors.
Consider the following:
- Children in urban settings spend more than 5 hours bingeing on television sets and computers largely because they are nudged to do so by busy parents
- The total time children spend playing outdoors is minimal because they are prohibited from venturing outside
- Meanwhile, children in rural settings spend upwards of 7 hours a day playing outdoors
This should be of concern to parents – and many are – especially those that care about the wellbeing of their children when finally they grow up. The sedentary lifestyle, in addition to the exposure to man-made electromagnetic fields, is something for parents to think about.
A few reasons you may want to take your child outdoors, to play with the gift of nature
1. Children playing outdoors is ‘for the love of living systems’
Children, just like adults, are drawn to explore the natural world because it offers them opportunities to blend with nature and indulge in physical and mental wellbeing. The concept of human attraction towards nature (outdoors) was hypothesized by the American ecologist Edward O. Wilson in the 1980s, and translated into a book he named Biophilia. Wilson defined biophilia as,
the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.
He argues that the need by humanity to bond with the rest of the life-forms and eco-system has its foundations deep in human biology.
It is undeniable that co-existence with other species such as plants (flora), and other animals (fauna) is a gift that children should get to harness in its entirety.
Nature is beautiful and vibrant and will remain so despite the overwhelming threat posed by humanity. As long as it is still available, children should be allowed to indulge in all its glory.
Below are a few reasons why nature is great for children:
- It stimulates their brains beyond the confines of the house
- It makes them think and grow intellectually
- It makes them happy
- It allows them to discover life and plant forms
- It stimulates their sensory senses
- It gives them opportunities to catch fresh air devoid of EMF pollution
- It promotes their physical wellbeing through extensive exploration
2. Outdoor play enhances executive functioning skills
Executive functioning skills are brain-based mental skills that help both adults and children to accomplish tasks correctly. They involve among others, efficient use of working memory, self-control and flexible multitasking skills to get the job done. If executed correctly, the skills are enablers for children to form and achieve planned goals and success in school and later in life.
Children are not necessarily born with executive functioning skills but have the ability to master them based on the environment and experience they are exposed to. Typically, executive functions will enable children to do the following activities correctly:
- manage time
- pay attention
- stay focused on tasks and switch tasks when necessary
- capable of multitasking without making mistakes
- plan and organize tasks
- remember important details
- avoid doing the wrong things
- avoid saying the wrong things
- use the experience to accomplish tasks
- accept different points of views in a discussion
- capable of controlling extreme emotions
By taking children outdoors they experiment with a lot of possibilities that challenge them to become better at thinking large and out of the box. Just by organizing to go outdoors and planning the tasks to be accomplished, you are getting the children to memorize tasks and hopefully fulfill them correctly. You can make this easy by letting them partake in the planning of trips and related activities.
Elsewhere, while playing soccer, doing athletics, riding bicycles, or even playing hide and seek, children progressively learn to use memory, self-control and multitasking functions in the brain, in order to score a goal, ride a bike, or seek out a friend hiding behind a bush.
By playing and socializing with other kids, they learn to check their emotions and overall behavior in public. Of course, this goes hand in hand with effective and active parenting which prepares them for the unknown and other extremes that may happen outdoors.
3. Outdoor playtime is great for vitamin D
The human body needs the sun almost daily, to help create the much needed Vitamin D which is vital for body growth and development. The exposure is particularly important in the morning and should average anything between 15 and 60 minutes, depending on the skin complexion. Dark-skinned kids need more minutes than light-skinned persons to absorb the right amount of vitamin D.
Humanity gets 90 – 95 percent of Vitamin D through type B Ultraviolet (UVB) exposure to the sun. Vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium and phosphate from the food we eat. The two are necessary for the body to develop stronger bones and teeth, and enable correct muscle contraction.
In addition, the hormone called serotonin is released during sunshine exposure to boost the mood and positivity during the day. It is just like the melatonin hormone which is released during the night to facilitate better sleep and body growth.
Without sufficient exposure to the sun, children are prone to complications such as soft and week bones, rickets, and type I and II diabetes in later years.
4. Children playing outdoors is great for all-round health
There is no better assurance of physical wellness than children playing outdoors. The expansive space outdoors is a catalyst for kids to run, jump, ride, swing, and execute all kinds of motor skills that are impossible indoors. The more time kids play outdoors, the more they
- develop stronger bones
- burn more calories and avoid obesity
- have better brain functionality
- become creative and imaginative
- eat better
- are resilient and stable psychologically
- avoid boredom
- have better immunity
Outdoor physical activities also help young children figure out special skills and talents, which they can build on to professional levels. These skills include riding, soccer, athletics, etc. which apart from becoming a source of income when they grow up, will ensure they remain physically alert throughout their lives.
5. Outdoor playtime stimulates sensory skills
Children, just like adults, use senses to explore and understand the world around them. At birth, everything is new and the sensory nerves are almost empty and waiting to be filled up. The spaces can only get filled up by what they do, see, eat, touch and sensations that happen to their bodies. This is extremely important for brain development.
Sensory skills involve the exploration of touch, smell, vision, hearing, taste, balance/movement, and body awareness, which are enhanced with the vast resources available outside the house.
When thy venture outdoors children will naturally interact with the vastness of plants, animals, and environment to explore the senses listed above. In what is commonly known as sensory play, they will engage in fun activities to discover touch, smell, sight, voices, taste, movement, and awareness of themselves and everything around them.
Sensory play will satisfy their curiosity, enhance memory, sharpen the brain and learn sensory attributes such as sweetness, bitterness, and coldness. They also get to appreciate sticky forms, mud, insect sounds, good and foul smell, etc.
6. Outdoor play for social well-being
Nothing is as painful when children are rejected socially for one reason or another. While one child may develop better social skills early in life, others will falter, and this will have to be addressed through a handful of hacks and by taking children outdoors.
This can be done through group play where children learn to interact naturally. Caution should be exercised early on, as kids tend to gang up against each other, and this may impair their ability to see the good in the others. This is especially true if measures such as anger management are not addressed from early childhood.
Children can as well get trained to participate in volunteer activities to enhance their social skills. They can volunteer in the homes of the elderly, retirement homes, or Sunday schools. In these and other places, they can read for others, and help with small chores here and there. Of course, the need to go out and volunteer makes more sense in slightly older kids than the very young ones.
Besides games and volunteering, other activities that can foster social skills include,
- music classes
- dance classes
- live events for kids
- educational trips
- afternoon camping for kids
- treasure hunt
7. The value of risky play outdoors
Risky play can be defined as an unstructured form of physical activity which is thrilling and adventurous for children, and yet carries a degree of uncertainty over the outcomes. Whereas the word ‘risk’ has not been used to mean ‘danger’ in the past, the implication has changed considerably in the 21st Century. Risky play is now viewed as a negative and dangerous form of play. Parents are jittery over the consequences, especially if they lead to serious physical injury or death!
Here is the thing though: Children are naturally drawn towards risky play because their bodies are expending the immense energy they possess and are out to discover new things. They also have little understanding of the underlying dangers. The likelihood of an object causing serious harm to a fellow child does not arise until it actually happens.
While risky play was a common thing in the last Centuries, parental concern over the safety of child play and societal emphasis on injury prevention has meant that children play under supervision or in safe playgrounds. Statistics show that adult supervision has actually contributed to reducing injury in children worldwide, but has again contributed to sedentary existence for many children. In order to minimize dangers arising from unsupervised play, parents now choose to keep children indoors to play computer games and watch movies.
Increasing research shows that placing too many restrictions on child-play hampers physical and cognitive development. Children need to take risks to prepare for real-life challenges.
Through risky play, they
- overcome the fear of failure by trying over and over again
- develop self-awareness by learning about how they react to dangerous encounters
- learn to deal with environmental dangers such as sharp objects, snakes, electrical shock, etc
- are more confident after successes in various challenges
- learn independence in instances where they disappear and have to find their way home
- become versatile by falling from high heights
- learn to deal with dangers such as fire, water
Risky play outdoors may involve more than just physical play. It may also include encounters which expose them to cognitive and social risks. By trying and failing to earn trust from friends, they never give and will try again. As mentioned above the need for active parenting at home will facilitate this journey even better.
8. Children get to escape from tech and EMF
Yes, let the children venture outdoors and you will surely get them to escape the addictive television and computers in the house – at least for a few hours. If done consistently, the bingeing instances will reduce as children discover the physical side of their existence. They will ask for even more hours outdoors. Of course, it depends on the nature of outdoor activities and whether they enjoy them or not.
Besides TV and Smartphones, your children get to escape from the invisible electromagnetic fields (EMF) waves that roam the house at all times. The increasing number of electronic devices and electrical wiring and installations in the house usually mean more EMF waves circulating in the air.
The Wi-Fi devices, smartphones, laptops, just to mention a few should be left behind when the children venture outdoors.
We should all get our children playing outdoors!
It is no mean feat to get children outdoors to play. Of course, they are always eager to, but the problem usually is the readiness of parents to let them live the moment.
As a parent,
- become an outdoor role model
- deliberately create time for outdoor activities
- give them the freedom to explore
- control screen time at home
- create child-friendly backyard
- encourage them to participate in communal activities