Of course, you want to raise happy and successful kids! Who doesn’t? Maybe you’re expecting some earth-shattering advice, something you haven’t heard before. You may be wondering is it a new parenting technique, learning strategy, or disciplinary tactic?
The thing is, it’s something that just about all of us did when we were kids.
Are you ready for it? Okay, here is the big secret to raising happy and successful kids…
LET THEM PLAY OUTSIDE!
Simple, easy, right?
Children today engage in outdoor play far less than any previous generations. There are several reasons for the paradigm shift in the way children play. Today it is much more common for both parents to work, creating less time for parents to take their children outside. Parents today also have a great deal more concern for the safety and proximity of their children. This means that parents allow for less spontaneous exploration and play, and instead support more structured and supervised lives. With the plethora of condos, apartments and townhouse communities springing up there is also less physical space, and many community designs fail to prioritize an outdoor play area.
There is no denying the body of research that suggests that time spent outdoors makes us, as people, happier, healthier and more well-rounded individuals. But by not prioritizing outdoor play for our children we are creating a generation of passive individuals, isolating themselves, and technology (despite how many “friends” you have on Facebook) is only making this worse.
There are numerous benefits to outdoor play, but here are 7 hard earned life skills that children gain from engaging in the outdoors.
#1 Creativity and Curiosity
It’s no secret that passive activities like watching TV or playing video games limits a child’s potential for creative thinking. Activities such as these generally require only two senses and can cause a child’s development of perceptual abilities to suffer. Many video or computer games offer only limited opportunities for decision-making and accepting responsibility for actions, this tends to restrict a child’s creativity and self-expression.
Children are naturally inquisitive, and fostering that curiosity about the world around them is highly beneficial for encouraging a life-long love of learning. Nurturing creativity and natural curiosity are important because they aid in developing outside-of -the-box thinking and problem-solving skills.
#2 Problem-Solving Skills
The ability to think quickly and effectively solve problems is a highly valued skill, but acquiring this skill begins when we are young. Parents can easily be caught in the trap of feeling like they need to solve problems for their children. Yes, there is a time for being the adult and helping your kid out of a jam or solving a problem for them as a means for teaching them how to handle a situation. However, it is also important to let your child think through processes, consider consequences and make decisions to solve some of their own problems.
Outdoor play that a child chooses makes them self-motivated (another highly valued trait), validates their thinking and allows them to engage in enjoyable and process-oriented play cultivating the need to problem-solve. Building problem-solving skills also supports and builds a child’s self-esteem.
A child who can think and do more for himself is a more confidence child. Confidence and self-esteem are bolstered by parents who engage and positively encourage their children. Outdoor play creates a place for children to boost their self-esteem by practicing and demonstrating new skills for their parents, when they engage as a positive audience. The less active and more isolated an individual is the more their confidence and self-esteem will suffer. However, by cultivating an active and inquisitive child you not only allow for knowledge acquisition through experience but also strengthen self-esteem and reinforce confidence. A child with greater self-esteem is more likely to exhibit independence and self-reliance.
Once your child hits their toddler years every parent knows that independence is what children crave. As human beings, we are wired to be independent but social. While children and even teens are still highly dependent on their parents, the ability to function as an adult requires independence and must be taught and fostered (when appropriate) throughout childhood.
Research has shown that children who stay primarily indoors are less likely to be creative, self-reliant and independent. But when children are given the opportunity to engage in freely chosen outdoor activities, which tends to be open-ended play, they become fully immersed in their activity and less reliant on their parents and other adults.
As parents one way that we can cultivate independence is by empowering our children by allowing them to make some of their own choices. This stimulates decision-making in a safe way, allowing for independence and the feeling of being heard and having their thoughts valued, while also creating a place for parents to provide guidance. Outdoor play is important for children because while they are practicing independence, while simultaneously learning cooperation.
Although it can be difficult, the ability to work cooperatively with others is a necessary life skill. Playing outdoors, specifically in a social setting with other children, is a perfect way to begin practicing cooperative interactions. Engagement with the natural world supports a child’s emotional development because it creates positive feelings towards others and the environment.
Outdoor play creates the opportunity for children to learn about diversity through interactions with other children of varying ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. It also allows for practicing safety skills which is important for interacting with others and ensuring personal safety. The ability to explore outdoors creates sensory experiences that can be shared with friends, cultivating cooperative learning and achievement and can also lead to hobbies or special interests. Practicing cooperation with others also establishes the idea of respect.
Parents raise their children with the intent to help them transform into good, respectful, morally sound human beings. When children engage in social outdoor play they are afforded many opportunities to learn about the importance of respecting others, the environment and diversity of life.
By teaching children about social diversity, we encourage an understanding and respect for others that begins right on the playground. We also get the opportunity to instill an appreciation and respect for the natural world and all the creatures in it. This idea of respecting the environment can be fostered by adopting and adhering to the “Leave No Trace” principle. But learning to respect others and the environment often requires patience.
Practicing patience is difficult for both adults and children, especially during this age of instant gratification. But however easy patience is to lose, it is absolutely necessary in life. As adults, we tend to focus on our life’s stresses, but children also experience stress daily.
Outdoor play and interaction can be a great way to release that stress and practice patience. Waiting for a turn on the playground, waiting for weeks as those seeds you planted grow and flourish, even waiting for those tiny blue eggs to hatch in that robin’s nest, all of these things require patience. The experience of watching things grow, creating something out of nothing and watching as new life begins, are experiences that are well worth the wait because they create lasting memories and can have a profound impact on us as people. But sometimes having patience also means having courage.
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up.”
This quote by Terence McKenna is about committing yourself wholeheartedly to your dream, cause or passion, and this is something that children do every day. They live in the moment, use their intuition and curiosity to experience and learn about the world around them. They live courageously and we can foster that courage by creating opportunities for outdoor play and exploration. Sometimes courage can show itself in the smallest people, and we could all learn from that.
Freely chosen outdoor play not only helps our children to be physically healthier, but it also lends itself to social and emotional development. Outdoor play activities allow our children to learn necessary life skills like social competence, creative thinking and problem-solving. Outdoor play helps to develop an appreciation for the environment and life in general. It motivates children to practice initiative and responsibility, and encourages the acquisition of basic academic principles like using tools and investigating properties. Outdoor play is fun and creates lasting bonds and memories, it should be encouraged always and practiced often. Now get outside and play!
Calvert Baker, G. (1994). Teaching Children to Respect Diversity. Childhood Education,71(1), 33-37. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00094056.1994.10521063
Clements, R. (2004). An Investigation of the Status of Outdoor Play . Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood,5(1), 68-80. Retrieved March 18, 2017, from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.2304/ciec.2004.5.1.10
White, R., & Stoecklin, V. (1998, March & april). Children’s Outdoor Play & Learning Environments: Returning to Nature. Early Childhood News. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Randy_White/publication/267374472_Children’s_Outdoor_Play_Learning_Environments_Returning_to_Nature/links/545141ec0cf2bf864cba8f55.pdf.