Eliza Flynn is a pre & post-natal personal trainer and founder of The Warrior Method, a unique style of training, Here she writes about the importance of outdoor play and learning.
Children are spending less time outside as childhood has moved indoors - the average child spends less than 10 minutes a day playing outside. And while the recent pandemic didn’t do anything to help this, now that lockdown’s eased and summer is official, it’s time to put away the Xbox, press pause on Netflix and head outside for green adventures.
Spending more time outside helps children grow and develop – emotionally, physically and socially. As a parent, you don’t have to know the difference between a sycamore tree and a horse chestnut to help promote this either; a sense of curiosity and adventure is all that’s needed.
We don’t stop playing because we grow old… we grow old because we stop playing
~ George Bernard Shaw
Children need to do and reflect to grow their knowledge. Rolling on grass, climbing trees, playing with sticks, dropping leaves into streams… they all improve cognitive development.
Some advantages of outdoor play:
Builds confidence. Inside activities usually have rules. Outside, your child can decide how to play and take control of their own actions.
Let your child make the rules of your next game
Teaches responsibility. Nature is filled with living things which die if neglected or not looked after properly.
Plant some seeds together and help them grow
Different stimulation. There’s a rich experience to be had outside; the sounds, sights, smells and feels are very different to what you find indoors.
Together, close your eyes and ask your child to describe what they can smell, hear and feel.
Makes kids think. Nature, unlike any other environment, has the power to instil wonder and prompt questions.
Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers – you can look it up together.
Promotes creativity and imagination. Outdoor play is usually more unstructured, which allows children to approach their surroundings in inventive ways and think more freely.
Bring containers, balls, and other items, and let them choose how to play with them
Kids move more. They don’t have to be racing wildly around to get moving more than they would likely do inside. Every walk counts as exercise and will get their blood pumping.
Allow time to investigate and encourage exploration on your walk
Spending time in green spaces is free, easy to do and has huge benefits for yourself and your children. Plus, you’ll create great memories together - think how many of your favourite memories took place on adventures outside.
Every child loves the adrenaline rush and sense of achievement of using all their skills to run, jump, climb, crawl, balance and roll to the finish line. Look at what’s around you with new eyes and identify the fallen trees which can be used as a balance beam, the branches for hanging off, the hills to roll down and the bushes to jump over.
Supports: creative thinking, teamwork, confidence, balance, coordination, boosts mood
Draw up activities to do, and make bingo cards for everyone. Older kids will enjoy coming up with ideas. The first to cross them all off is the champion!
Hang from a tree
Roll down a hill
Find a cloud animal
Spot 5 butterflies
Find the biggest stick
Find a feather
5 different flowers
Spot a squirrel
Discover a shell
Supports: observational skills, knowledge building, mindfulness, numeracy, confidence, friendly competition
If you’re not barefoot, you’re overdressed
Children love nothing more than to take their shoes off outside. Why? Partly because children can be awkward (!) but also because they move better without and it feels good. Next time they kick off their shoes, providing they are in a suitable place, encourage them to take their socks off too. When was the last time they, or you, got the chance to feel earth, grass, sand, or concrete under their feet?
Different stimulus – by freeing your feet, your feet feel more and this lays the foundation for better movement control and balance.
Builds healthy feet – the muscles in your feet can’t work as they’re meant to in shoes. Removing that restriction gives joints and muscles the chance to strengthen as they should.
Better mental health – contact with natural surfaces, such as grass or sand, has a grounding effect which reduces stress and improves sleep.
Before long, there will come a time when children spend more time wearing shoes and socks than going ‘au natural’ so encourage them to free their feet now.
Eliza Flynn has two small and feral boys, and is passionate about encouraging families to stay fit and healthy together. As a pre and postnatal fitness specialist, she helps women build the strength and resilience they need as mums.