The Importance of Outdoor Play

The sight of children playing in the streets seems to be long gone in many parts of New Zealand, but the wane of outdoor play also means losing many of the learning benefits.

The great outdoors is one of the oldest play places in the world, where children play some of the most interesting games. Playing outside is less common because:

  • Children tend to spend more time indoors in front of the television or computer and be transported around in the family car
  • Parents worry about ‘stranger danger’ and playing on roads (rightly so!) and tend to prefer our kids to be supervised indoors

Some experts say this “over-sanitised” approach is leading to a rise in learning and health conditions such as dyspraxia, asthma and obesity. Parents should, of course, protect their children by teaching them about personal and road safety, but also find ways of making outdoor ‘free play’ safe.

The fun of outdoor play

Besides being out in the fresh air, one of the big benefits of outdoor play versus indoor play is being free from parental and adult constraints. One theory says all the shouting, jeers, taunts, calls, and rhymes that go on when adults aren’t around actually give children the chance to:

  • Understand complex speech and language patterns like phonology, lexis, grammar and syntax
  • Develop more complex skills around friendships and social engagement

How parents can encourage their kids to play outside

Try these ideas to encourage outdoor play:

  • Encourage young children to play outside at least once a day – even when the weather is bad. Children need to experience all types of weather, so don’t allow bad weather to stop the fun – just dress appropriately.
  • As your child gets older, teach them road safety skills and walk around your suburb with them to help them become streetwise and get to know neighbours.
  • Talk to your child about personaly safety and teach them what to do in an emergency.
  • Look for places where your child can play outside, even if you don’t have a backyard. Think about local parks, skate bowls, school grounds, etc.
  • Kids love it when the rest of the family joins in on the fun – so get involved with a kick about in the backyard or a game of cricket at the beach and they’re more likely to want to play too.
  • Share your favourite outdoor activities from when you were a kid – teach them how to play hopscotch, elastics, or the best way to climb trees.
  • When children are old enough to go out alone develop a protocol: they should always let you know where they are going and with whom; check in regularly with you or other trusted adults.
  • As children get older encourage them to go on ‘everyday adventures’ and to manage risks by practising personal safety.

Written by and adapted for Kidspot NZ

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