Outdoor play boosts imagination and a wealth of other skills too!posted by: mothercare
I remember enjoying my summer days running around the parks, playing on swings and slides and letting my imagination run free, turning my back garden into any imaginary land I could think of. This was such an integral part of my growing up and I imagine the same for many other parents today. However, worryingly, now days just a quarter of children spend more than an hour playing outside every day (The Guardian, 2016).
Active free play is one of the most important aspects of childhood and has enormous health and developmental benefits, as recognised in last year’s Play by the All Party Parliamentary Group (Fundamentally Children, 2015). We hear the same story again and again, but the message doesn’t seem to be getting anyway. There are so many benefits to outdoor play, and having the right garden toys and play sets can enhance imagination and play even further.
So, why should children have the freedom to play outdoors?
1. There's a whole fantasy world out there you can't see.
In the great outdoors, children really can become absorbed in their fantasy worlds, lost in their imaginations. The natural world is full of props children can use for their pretend play, for example a bush can become a jungle where the wild animals are hiding, or a climbing frame can become a rocky mountain. This can also lead to creative problem solving, as children use these props to build their fantasy worlds – for instance, thinking about how to fit logs together to build a den.
Imaginative play is also fantastic for social skills, as children will often work together to construct their fantasy world and get into deep discussions about how their story will play out, even taking on roles of different characters.
2. Personal, social and emotional development
Having the freedom to enjoy unstructured, exploratory play can help support good emotional well-being. Outdoor play supports good personal, social and emotional development that can help decrease the number of children that suffer from a mental health disorder (1 in 10) such as anxiety or depression (Young Minds, 2005) Children have the chance to develop risk assessment skills too – parents can often be very risk-averse nowadays, but if children aren’t given the chance to test their abilities, they do not learn to accurately judge risks as they get older. This can mean children grow ip too worried to approach new experiences, or individuals who naïvely take on dangerous risks.
3. It's great for fresh air and exercise
The phrase “the fresh air will do you good” really is true – the natural light helps regulate a child’s biological clock, gives children a good supply of vitamin D which helps improve bone strength and may reduce the likelihood of natural near-sightedness (Live Strong, 2015).
Children are also more likely to participate in active play when outdoors, helping keep children fit and healthy. This strengthens motor skills such as balance and coordination too.
4. It's a messy, and messy is good
The outdoors provides a whole new world for children to explore, helping encourage a fascination with wildlife and nature. Children just love to watch bugs going about their day, or dig their hands deep in a pile of dirt, which is a great sensory activity. Nurturing this curiosity from a young age can build the foundation for a love of Science and Geography, while stimulating an inquisitive mind.
Parents don’t need to worry about entertaining their child with planned activities – there are so many opportunities for playing outdoors, just give them the freedom and they’ll be off!
5. Getting to know mummy and daddy's playful side
Children are always using their imagination but how often do they see us grownups give it a go? Outdoor play gives us plenty of space to run around with the children and immerse ourselves into their fantasy world. Watching adults play will encourage them to develop the story and make them want to be outside even more. It can even be great for parents to let go of being serious for a little while and have a few minutes of freedom and play.
Parents and guardians can also use this opportunity outside to teach the children some of their childhood favourite games – sharing some of their own child hood with their own children and helping the child get to know more than just mummy.
There are many ways in which children can enhance their creativity and use imagination for self-development and social skills, and with summer just around the corner, we should take ourselves outside with our kids and become part of the scenery!