News ID: 192966
Published: 0145 GMT May 17, 2017

Why children need outdoor play

Why children need outdoor play

Every generation winces when the previous one recalls how much better life was in their day. But one thing everyone remembers is playing outside as a child.

If current trends are anything to go by, however, outdoor play could soon be a thing of the past as modern children spend more and more time glued to TV and computer screens or playing indoors because their parents are worried for their safety, irishtimes.com wrote.

This not only adds to our growing problem of obesity but also limits the developmental scope for children who, according to experts, need to spend time connecting with the outside world every day.

In fact, the issue is deemed so important that there are several major conferences taking place this month to discuss the importance of outside play and ways to help Irish children get as much out of their natural environment as possible.

One of the gatherings involves educators, carers, occupational therapists and even landscapers and builders to highlight the significance of providing spacious, attractive play areas for children in pre-school facilities.

Daniel English of Early Childhood Ireland (ECI) said taking steps to ensure our children benefit from the great outdoors is vital.

“Historically, outdoor spaces in pre-school facilities have been the last thing to be considered,” he said. “Hence, many pre-schools are left with inadequate or non-existent outdoor play spaces.

“So we need it to become instinctive among professionals to immediately consider the provision of a decent outdoor play area when constructing, designing or managing a pre-school.”

Being outdoors for at least three hours per day is considered essential for growing children, according to many experts.

“The benefits of outdoor play are multi-faceted and span the entire gambit of a child’s development; physical, mental, sensory and social,” he said.

“Through play, children make sense of their world — infants and toddlers investigate and learn during this sensory motor stage of development.

“This means they are learning through their senses and through movement. Outdoors, children’s senses are naturally stimulated through the ever-changing sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch of the world.

“As their bodies and minds grow and develop, outdoors provides endless opportunities for new experiences which are unavailable inside.”

Lack of physical activity is inextricably linked to obesity among young children.

The Growing up in Ireland Study found that 25 percent of three-year-olds were overweight. Too much screen time is likely to be a contributing factor.

“Inevitably, the more time children spend looking at screens the less time there is to engage in more traditional, outdoor forms of play,” said English.

“And it’s now a tempting option to hand a child a tablet or mobile phone rather than to bring them outside — the instant engagement screens provide for children is to the detriment of outdoor play.

“The trend is also reflected in the research from the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal study. It found that only 58 percent of five-year-olds spent less than two hours in front of a screen on a weekday.

“So while television has been around for decades, tablets and smart phones have only become ubiquitous in recent years so unsurprisingly, they’ve been eating into the time children would have historically spent outdoors.”

To combat this dependency on technology, many outdoor or forest pre-schools are opening around the country, offering children the chance to spend most of their classes outside.

This is set entirely outdoors and even in wet or cold weather, the children are wrapped up and continue to play, explore and crucially, develop outside.

   
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