Running around outdoors is a favorite past time of mine. I recall happy memories of my childhood adventures on my family’s farm. Riding on our ATV’s, taking long walks to the pond, learning to parallel park between two trees in an F-150, are some of my most favorite memories. At the time, I did not understand how my adventures aided in my development; however, looking back I can remember countless times I needed to use creative methods and problem solving skills to escape the “dangers” of the pasture. Life seemed simpler then.
My siblings and I built our own tree house one year using the wood we found behind one of our barns. We worked together to haul the wood to a suitable tree that had forked downward creating a mostly flat area to begin building a platform. We used my father’s hammer, nails and saw to build what we would consider to be our castle in the woods. We had many adventures on that farm. I only wish my own children could experience a similar environment. Unfortunately, my family has inadvertently fallen victim to the hectic schedules and technology plaguing our lives. One of my goals for this year is to stem the tide of over-stimulation, and take my family back to the great outdoors–even if just in our own yard.
I’ve been reading many articles over the past few months about the importance of play. Working on museum projects, I’ve gained a lot of insight into the differences between my childhood and my own children’s. It’s easy to repost memes and quotes on social media regarding the differences, but it’s another thing to sit and actually contemplate those differences. An article researched and based on Australian children’s data (but could be readily applied worldwide) suggests that children are playing outdoors less and less. There are several reasons given confirming this statement. According to research, addiction to technology, and parents hoping to protect their children from various environmental and social factors have limited a child’s time spent outdoors. **Cue the guilty parent face**
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes play as every child’s basic right. But play is becoming extinct. Global studies, across generations, have confirmed outdoor children’s play has been declining, across all age groups, for decades.Brendon Hyndman, Senior Lecturer and Course Director (Postgraduate Education courses), Charles Sturt University
There are many ramifications for the lack of outdoor play. Apart from a child’s lack of imagination, they are less likely to appreciate nature if they refrain from engaging with nature. Children also need sun exposure and exercise in order to continue developing strong immune systems, and maintain healthy bodies. Playing outdoors also increases executive function. Unstructured play improves a child’s development on all levels. Too often, hectic schedules and pressures of school deter children from unstructured play and play outdoors.
The article suggests that schools could help pick up the slack. However, the problem is that children need new environments to explore, and a school playground gets old quick. So, while it’s imperative children get as many breaks at school as possible, we cannot leave our children’s outdoor exposure strictly to schools. We must do our part to get off technology, take breaks from working around the house/careers, and take our children out to play and explore. Let them be free to roam (within reason). They’ll appreciate the independence and you’ll get to see them grow right before your very eyes.
This article was written by Leslie Hubert, Vice President, Children’s Museum of Rock County Board of Directors