play outside

Play is a highly important part of a child’s life. Recently, however, the dynamics of childhood have changed as fewer kids choose to play outside. The quality of play itself has changed, and children don’t play like how former generations do. Traditional games are also losing its appeal, and swing sets in our backyards are starting to feel lonely.

Recent studies tell us that the decline of children’s play time affects their cognitive and emotional development. A study conducted by University of Michigan researchers found that the average school-age child had 40 percent of the day for free time – defined as the time left over after eating, studying, sleeping, and engaging in free or unstructured activities. By 1997, the figure decreased to 25 percent.

In another study, more than 800 mothers were asked about the status of their play when they were young. 70 percent reported that they used to play outdoors every day when they were children, compared with only 31 percent of their children. This study suggests that children nowadays don’t play in ways that their parents did.

Trend In Child’s Play

Outdoor play is a normal experience for children but it has now become a thing of the past. Every child is wired to play outside. By the turn of the 21st century, however, changes in traditional play has had accelerated. Outdoor playing has become threatened in modern societies. What has changed then in child’s play?

Academic pressures, parental concerns regarding children’s safety, instant access to information via the Internet, and increased use of indoor high-tech games have been barriers to kids’ physical activity. Digital age has considerably influenced child’s play as children are increasingly exposed to popular culture and modern gadgets.

Even the opportunity to play outdoors where the playground equipment is safe and well-maintained has been scarce and limited. After all, playground should be safe and open and where grownups are not a dominant population. Concerns about affluent and secure playgrounds reduce children’s play opportunities. Safety concerns of parents are a factor. Unfortunately, this leads to the ‘domestication’ of play.

The trend in kid’s playing is apparent as traditional games, such as football and basketball, have taken a backseat. No longer did the children play organized physical activities. Some traditional games—with children playing outside—have become completely forgotten.

The Value Of Play

Here are a few reasons why parents should let kids play outside:

  1. Play encourages physical development and good health. According to The Australian Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Guidelines for Early Childhood Settings, “Playing and being physically active is an important part of life for all children. The early development of good habits may lead to healthy behaviours that will last into later years, and regular physical activity in early childhood can impact on immediate and long-term health outcomes.” Physical play helps develop children’s motor skills, strength, coordination, and agility. While there are growing concerns on children’s obesity in Western countries, physical activity has become increasingly important in promoting play.
  2. Play stimulates brain development and promotes problem-solving skills. Play often involves problem solving which is important to learning and intellectual development. The very nature of play allows more opportunities for children to deal with real life problems. It sparks creativity. Creative play allows experimentation especially when a child experiences something incomprehensible and he or she feels a need to work it through.
  3. Play develops language skills in children. Children could imitate adult speech patterns. They can experiment with words, sounds, and sequences by taking on different roles. Through play, they can show their perspective of the adult world.
  4. Play helps children get along with others. Outdoor play encourages children to collaborate and interact with peers. They can choose roles and suggest ideas. Children learn how to exert control over themselves, make decisions, interact and negotiate with friends, and follow the rules. Children can learn by observing and imitating others.
  5. Play is a fun activity that brings great pleasure to children. Alvin Rosenfeld, a child psychiatrist and author of the book “The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap” believes that play is joyful and emotionally nourishing. Free play has a role in the development of emotionally healthy children where they can control their engagement level. Meanwhile, play deprivation can lead to depression. When children suffer from depression in adulthood, deprivation from free play could be a factor.

Parents should let kids play outside. More attention should be focused on the benefits that happen through play. It is important for parents to support their children’s play as it forms an important and meaningful part of a child’s upbringing. Ensuring that children are involved in play activities is a significant role for parents for the benefit of their child’s emotional, social, cognitive, and physical growth.