Australia may be famous for its sweeping plains and jewel seas but studies are finding that fewer kids are experiencing them because they’re playing inside. In fact, recent research has found that only one in three Aussie kids play outside on a daily basis.
In an ideal world, kids would spend at least an hour a day in outdoor, unstructured play. But the growing body of research from around the world shows that green time for kids is fast being replaced by screen time.
And organisations and experts in child development are calling on parents to ensure their kids have daily access to the outdoors, for the sake of their development.
Damning evidenceA 2009 Australian study of 10- to 12-year-old children found that 37 percent spent just 30 minutes or less being active outside on a typical day. This same study found that 43 percent of these kids spent more than two hours a day watching TV, videos or playing computer games.
Another study, Climbing Trees: Getting Aussie Kids Back Outdoors, commissioned by Planet Ark in 2011, has also revealed the extent to which child’s play has changed. Less than 20 percent of parents interviewed said their kids had climbed a tree and only 29 percent thought their kids had ever played jump rope, hopscotch or street games.
A recent US study has shown that this growing indoor culture is a western phenomenon. It found that more than half of preschool-aged kids do not venture outside to play on a daily basis, and that girls are 16 percent less likely to head into the fresh air than boys.
A conscious effort is neededNature Play WA is an organisation established with the prime task of getting kids and their parents back into the great outdoors. It is in the process of distributing 40,000 special 'passports' to encourage children to play outside.
The passport lists 15 things kids should do before they turn 12, many of which are activities that their parents did as kids without even a second thought – like climbing a tree, catching a wave, playing in the rain, making a mudpie and learning to ride a bike.
Nature Play’s latest initiative is a 'green time' chart, which families can download and then mount on their fridge. The object of this is for kids to fill in how much time they spend outdoors each day and if there are more 'green time' stickers than 'screen time' stickers at the end of a fortnight, the family rewards itself with a special outdoor activity.
Nature Play CEO Griffin Longley can cite a whole lot of reasons why it’s vital for kids to connect with nature and the outdoors generally.
“It’s not just about exercise," he says. "It’s also been shown over and over again in research that when kids engage in unstructured play outside it fires up their imaginations and is essential for emotional and cognitive development. The bottom line is that kids need to be able to play outside to be healthy in all ways.”
In your own backyardWhile taking kids to fun and free outdoor venues like the park or beach are simple ways to ensure kids get their green time, Griffin says backyards, even small ones, can provide lots of fun for littlies.
“We understand it can be difficult for busy parents to be able to take kids out to the park every day, so it’s also good to have a safe and accessible outdoor space, like a backyard, for kids to play in,” he says.
“They can take a lot of their indoor play stuff outside. Even the play girls often engage in – like playing with dolls, or playing 'house' – can be easily moved outdoors. If kids are drawing inside, why not take all they’re drawing outside?
“And outdoors they can really use their imagination, using nature as props.”
Four great outdoor activities1. Invest in some wheelsWhether it’s a ride-on toy for littlies, a trick scooter, a skateboard or a bike, there’s nothing more exciting – and possibly daring – for kids than a set of wheels.
2. Take a hikePick an age-appropriate walk – it can be just down to the shops with the littlies or a short bush walk with preschoolers – pack some water and snacks and go for a walk.
3. Set up a treasure hunt or activity stationsIt can take a little pre-organisation but both of these activities can be set up in your backyard. Set goals like 'find a yellow flower' or 'collect three pebbles', or 'run to the purple towel and do three star jumps'.
4. Plant a veggie gardenKids love digging around in the dirt and playing with water. Then there is the added bonus of them caring and nurturing for those plants before reaping the gastronomic benefits. Kids are much more likely to eat veg they grew themselves.
Research has found the vast benefits of playing outside, including:
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