Playing outdoors and exploring our natural surroundings used to be the foundation of childhood memories, but somewhere along the way it’s become lost in the stress of everyday life, government cutbacks and the culture of fear; fear of strangers and fear of accidents.
However studies have shown that the increase in fear does not correlate with the increase in crimes affecting children.
As a result, children tend to be kept indoors more and occupied with structured activities that promote little independence.
So where we stop children from being adventurous and climbing trees and playing in the rain, are we in fact prohibiting their growth in some way?
There are numerous research studies that link the importance of play with children thriving in all aspects of their lives and well into adulthood.
1 Mental health
The number of children suffering from anxiety and depression has steadily been rising for some time now. One in eight (12.8%) 5 to 19 year olds had at least one mental disorder when assessed in 2017.*1
It’s arguable that children face more pressures now than ever before; they’re expected to sit more exams during their time in education and there is also more pressure from their peers. Whilst bullying has always been apart of society, the revolution of social media and increase in mobile technology has led to the onset of cyber bullying.
While outdoor play may not solve the UK’s mental health crisis overnight, it will certainly be a major positive step in the right direction.
Spending time outdoors can reduce symptoms of depression and improve a child’s general wellbeing. Being in natural surroundings has a calming effect which leads to feeling more happier, healthy and a sense of freedom, as it gives kids the chance to escape from the stresses of everyday life.
2 Physical development
Outdoor play is synonymous with children developing strong and healthy bodies. But with the decline in the number of hours children now spend outside and replaced with screen time, the state of children’s physical health is worryingly alarming.
‘One in 10 children are considered obese by the time they start primary school and this rises to 1 in 5 by the time they reach Year 6’. *2
Public Health England’s guidelines suggest children should spend 60 minutes a day engaging in physical activity, but truth is, the majority are falling well short of these recommendations.
As well as burning off calories and improving fitness levels, embedding outdoor play into children’s daily routines can help to develop muscle strength and coordination and fine and gross motor skills.
Even in the winter, a small amount of sunshine can help children absorb vitamin D to ensure healthy bone density.
Children’s lives have become more and more structured over time and controlled by timetables with the surge in after school activities, that there is little time left for free play. While being driven from one activity to another diminishes the opportunity for outdoor interactions even further.
This increase in structure reduces the chances for children to explore their environments, develop new ideas and spark their imaginations. Being outdoors stimulates different senses and parts of the brain; sticks, stones and soil can represent other abstract objects.
Being able to think creatively and outside the box is a valuable skill that can set children up for later life. A creative mind can help to solve difficult problems and overcome obstacles that come its way.
With so much time spent indoors and zoned out in front of screens, these transferable creative skills are in decline.
It’s during play that children gain a deeper knowledge about themselves and the world around them. Using and navigating new equipment teaches new skills and helps to increase confidence and self-esteem.
Take this play in to external environments where risks are slightly increased, and this gives children the chance to develop the ability to learn how to stay safe outside. There are also more opportunities for them to overcome obstacles and feel a greater sense of achievement in exceeding their limits.
Getting children playing outside is also encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zone and putting them on the path to developing their independence. Outdoors they are free to roam further than they are indoors, explore unfamiliar surroundings and deal with the unpredictable.
Learning by trial and error and experiencing failure and success, helps children to overcome challenges they come across and become more fearless of whatever comes their way in the future.
5 Emotional development
Outdoor spaces are less crowded and less intimidating for children, which helps to facilitate more social interactions as children tend to come out of their shells more in open environments.
It’s through these social interactions that children learn to form friendships, express their emotions and understand those of others, the consequences of their actions and how to deal with conflict and cooperate. Being able to express how they are feeling helps children to learn how to have greater control of their emotions as they grow.
Children who aren’t able to effectively control their emotions tend to lash out verbally or physically and find it difficult to cope with adversity later in life.
Parents enjoy taking kids to soft play centres or parks as they can run around and burn off their energy in safe enclosed environments. However outdoor experiences are more limited, so at Challenge Academy we’ve created a unique Nets Adventure Park for families and children as young as four to enjoy an outdoor adventure high up amongst the trees. With different obstacles to tackle, the aerial course will help kids to step out of their comfort zone and learn new skills as they challenge themselves mentally and physically, all under the support of nets.
Find out more and book The Nets Adventure.
*1 NHS report on Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017.
*2 Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet – England, 2018.