Playing outside provides opportunities for children to use all their senses, to experience wonder and enchantment, to work on a larger scale and to enjoy a greater sense of freedom and independence.
Outdoor play is a natural enhancement and extension of indoor environments and ideally children should be able to choose to play outside at any time: there should be a flow of play between inside and outside.
Arguably, outdoor play has more to offer children than indoor activities, and we should not therefore parcel it up as a short interval in the real business of the day. It should be a vital part of the real business of the day – every day. With Spring nearly upon us and the weather warming up, it is a great time to try and get children playing outdoors once again. During the Winter months, children have become acclimatised to sitting in front of a computer or television screen playing video games for hours on end and this type of play is not providing the development children need.
Through the introduction of the television, computers and the Internet, games consoles, and portable video games, children are learning from a very early age that sitting in a chair staring at a screen is a great way to play. However there is a huge difference between talking to a fellow team mate through the Internet and a microphone and actual face-to-face contact.
It is vital that during these warm Summer months, children make the most of being able to go outside. This allows them to properly stretch out their muscles, breathe in the fresh air and get some vitamin D from the sunshine. Vitamin D encourages the absorption of calcium in the body which, in young children is essential for the development of strong bones and teeth. During the Winter, most children will not be exposed to enough vitamin D so it is vital that they get as much as they can during the warmer months to counteract this deficit.
There are also several social benefits of children playing outside. Outside games are often much louder and more energetic, allowing children to gain important physical skills and because there is usually less direction from adults, children learn skills such as negotiation and compromise. For example, getting children to build a sandcastle allows them to learn how to co-operate and work together to achieve something. When playing outdoors, a child is also exposed to completely different textures, sounds and smells which they would not otherwise experience indoors. They are often allowed more freedom to explore and discover things for themselves, building their independence and their confidence.
The playground at school is the perfect environment for learning these skills and gives children an allotted amount of time each day to let off some steam and interact with others. This highlights the importance for stimulating outdoor playground equipment. The equipment children use both individually and as part of a group activity, can be extremely beneficial in their development.
So now that the weather is beginning to allow for outdoor play, we should encourage children to put away the game consoles and experience more of the environment for themselves and make the most of it.