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The importance of the outdoors for children!

Have you heard of the term biophilia? It is a term coined by Harvard University Biologist Edward O Wilson. It means ‘an innate and genetically determined affinity of human beings with the natural world’ In layman terms that would mean none of us would have to be cajoled to get outdoors and connect with nature. Unfortunately, the relevance of the term is diminishing as is the need for children to step outdoors and have some fun. Ultimately leaving parents in a dilemma ‘ play inside or play outside?’ inside? outside? inside out? The dilemma is finally shrugged off due to the busy culture we live in. Parents accept the complaint ‘mama, it’s cold outside’ (metaphorically speaking) like they really have no control over their child’s play! Read on to know more about the importance of the outdoors for children.




Why is it important for children to play outside?


Play has always been abundant in developing children and consistent across all cultures. It is also present in non-human mammalian species as well and across the animal kingdom highlighting its importance for survival. Johan Huizinga, in his most important work ‘Homo Ludens: A study of the play-element in culture’ identified play as one of the most central activities in flourishing societies.





In the current times, the amount of time children utilize connecting with nature is rapidly diminishing. Studies show that children are unable to spend even 7 minutes outdoors doing unstructured play like climbing trees, jumping puddles, or building sandcastles. Yet, children spend 7 hours a day in front of a screen. Richard Louv’s 2005 book, Last child in the woods, talks about the effects of the lack of green in children’s lives, calling it the ‘nature-deficit’ disorder.




What is curbing kids from going outside?


There is a global panic that is taking place about the amount of time children are spending indoors. It takes humongous effort to get a child to indulge in outdoor activities. Children these days prefer being indoors lounging on a sofa over a screen or battling it out in a violent video game. Why take the trouble to clean up and get out when you can go straight from your bed to the screen? Richard Louv, author of the book ‘Last child in the woods’ talks about his infamous interview with a child who preferred being indoors. He said ‘that’s where all the electrical outlets are.’


Another evil that is curbing kids from stepping outside to kick a ball or jump in the water is the evolution of social media. Social media has made it easy for children to stay connected with their friends and hence made staying indoors seem more sociable than it is. Children these days have zoom, snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp at their disposal to chat with their friends whenever they like.


A more recent factor is the increasing parental fear about children getting infected with the corona virus and hence the hoarding of children indoors more than necessary.


The implications


It is not surprising that the implication of this change in behaviour over the past decade has startling if not shocking consequences. There have been more instances of children with shorter attention spans, more diagnosis of disorders like ADHD. Child experts are meeting more children with eating disorders, obesity issues, gaming addiction and social withdrawal issues. Globally, anyone who is interested in the development of children must sit up and worry about the fact that children these days equate free time with screen time. That has got to change.


‘We cannot afford to cajole our children into the outdoors anymore. We have to force them out, exterminate them to the trees and the bees.’


But why? Why take all this trouble? What are the benefits of unstructured, outdoor play for children? Why is it so important for them to play outside?


‘From a developmental perspective, play allows children to experiment with their behavioural and social repertoire, and to practice their physical and communication skills.’ (www.sciencedirect.com)


Where do you find play?


The elements of play are diverse and are present in all kinds of activities. Across all cultures the diversity in the elements of play is found in sports, games, theatre, language, writing, role-play, dance, storytelling, competition, art, language, poetry, and music. How can you label an activity as play? What are the characteristics of play?




a) Play is voluntary, spontaneous, fun and rewarding

b) Differs from other behaviour

c) It is repeated in various forms

d) Most often, it is initiated in the absence of stress


Play inside or play outside? inside? outside? Play or not to play? How is it going to help children?


Across all studies and research, it is assumed that play facilitates the development of physical, emotional, social and psychological well-being of the child.


Benefits of play


It stimulates their imagination


Nature offers incredible stimulation to a child’s mind. Not like the violent kind, from a regular video game. The reality is that the experiences in nature can activate all five senses in a child. That is why humans tend to feel ‘so alive’ after a fun experience in the outdoors. It helps improve their creativity and inspires them to pursue other hobbies like art, photography, and writing. The exposure to various environments and landscapes offers different experiences in learning. Children can acquire a huge amount of knowledge just by spending time on the beach, trekking through mountains or surfing in the ocean. Nature offers lessons on geography, science, sustainability, and various life forms. Learning can be endless if the quest for knowledge is triggered through outdoor play.





It improves motor skills and maintains physical health and well-being


Through unstructured play children can improve skills like jumping, running, and skipping. These kinds of skills help to improve hand-eye coordination, gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Engaging in physical activity improves stamina, balance and skill. Children can learn to climb a wall, jump a puddle or just pull their way through monkey bars. These activities build physical strength and will help children to maintain their physique overall. Thereby helping to prevent problems like obesity and device addictions.





It enhances their social intelligence


Unstructured play brings out leadership skills, teaches children to manage relationships and improves communication. They also become better listeners and learn how to work as a team. Play is also a fun way to instill discipline in children. It builds interest in sports and games. Therefore, it is a crucial factor in building social competence in children. This means that children will also be able to improve their critical thinking skills and the ability to empathize. When playing in a group, children will also naturally build self-awareness. The strong social need to be accepted and included will help them learn to compromise and co-operate better.




It improves Emotional Intelligence (EI)


The term Emotional Intelligence gained popularity from Daniel Goleman’s book called ‘Emotional Intelligence.’ EI refers to an entire range of skills that helps an individual process emotional information and navigate the social environment. Play in a supportive, loving environment helps children to grow into socially competent adults.




Unstructured play builds emotional intelligence and has an incredibly positive impact on mental wellbeing. It significantly enhances self -esteem and self-confidence. It consistently promotes positive energy and a positive mindset. Therefore, it does help to reduce anger outbursts, boredom, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. It also helps build resilience, especially when children engage in adventurous play. Thereby improving their ability to cope with uncertain situations and management of adversity. It builds confidence, because it makes children feel more powerful when they are in control of their actions. It also helps drive leadership performance.


It improves their IQ


The broader the experiences for children, the broader their perspective on life, people and everything else. The world is a classroom, every time a child experiences something new, a lot of learning takes place. The experience of outdoor play stimulates their thinking, evaluates their cognitive skills, and gives them opportunities to apply classroom attained knowledge. Unstructured play has so many opportunities for infinite learning that it is bound to increase knowledge and stir curiosity about the world around.



Whether it is sand play or waterplay, it helps children to improve their concentration and increases their attention span. It also gives them a sense of being and studies have shown play linked to a sense of identity. It provides for an adaptable playground to experiment with different social behaviour. This helps to evaluate consequences, to develop a versatile, rich emotional, behavioural and social repertoire.





Also, it is important to understand that development is not a linear process. Though play is abundant in children, it is present in adults as well. So, parents too can indulge in play with their children to offer a supportive healthy environment for them to grow.


It makes children more responsible towards their environment


Unstructured play helps children understand that living things die if not treated with care. So, they learn to take care of their environment and become socially responsible. They also become aware of environmental issues like the importance of recycling, the importance of waste management and the nuances of global warming. They learn about the importance of using sustainable materials and begin to recognise the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable materials.





Play at Learner Circle


Play is important to reach certain developmental milestones in physical, social, emotional and psychological areas. But play can be an impediment in children with life threatening illnesses and in children with other psychological disorders. Pls consult a professional if you are under these exceptional circumstances and want to know how to include play into your routine.


Learner Circle understands the importance of play and that is why we have curated a diverse range of short courses for you to experiment with. We have music, dance and public speaking courses, for those inclined towards these play elements. Do not hesitate to contact us for more details.





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