A generation ago who could have imagined that parents of the future would have to force (tempt/plead) children to go out and play? That the fear of school ‘health & safety’ rules would deter children from climbing trees and bars? That the possibility of being unplugged from all ‘screens’ even for a day would be unthinkable?
Our children spend almost 90% of their time indoors, 50 hours a week tied to some electronic gadget and getting less than 30 minutes of fitness training a day! They have become out of shape, attention deficit, stressed out and spaced out.
“10 year olds today are physically weaker than those ten years ago”, confirms a recent study published in the child health journal, Acta Paediatrica. They are less muscular, less able to hang ( from wall bars in a gym), can do fewer sit-ups and have lesser arm strength and looser grips. Coupled with older established findings like – children are becoming more unfit, less active and often heavier than before; are serious causes of concern for the health of our children.
Our modern, fast paced, gadget driven lifestyles with its structured activities and virtual communications has changed the way our children ‘play’. It’s time to unlearn and relearn. It’s time to unplug and move out!
Here are 9 reasons why it’s time to shift childhood outdoors.
1. A Natural Affinity
A hypothesis called ‘biophillia‘ literally meaning love of life; suggests that we all have a biological need to be in nature since we are all products of its evolution, and that when we are away or cut off from nature, it hampers our wellbeing. That is why a walk in nature refreshes us and lifts our spirit versus a walk on the treadmill in a gym.
Children have even more of a natural preference for the outdoors. They are innately driven to be curious about the outside world, have a desire to explore, test the limitations of their bodies and discover new relations between themselves and the world. This is how nature planned it.
In the past being ‘in nature’ was inevitable, but today with the gadgets and screens our children are more inclined to be indoors. Richard Louv calls this disconnect, a ‘Nature-Deficit-Disorder’ which causes varied physical and emotional diseases, reduced use of our senses, focus and attention difficulties (Attention Deficit Disorder –ADD).
2. Physical Development
Playing actively outdoors keeps children lean and fit. It reduces their risk of being overweight and obesity related ailments including heart diseases, diabetes etc.
Outdoor play also promotes flexibility, improves motor function along with a wide variety of physical skills and increased muscular strength.
Swimming, balancing on a plank, climbing trees, throwing and catching, skipping rope, playing tag, riding a bicycle or just even strolling teaches them how to use their large muscles and develops gross motor skills. For eg, swinging engages all their muscles to hold on, to balance, and to move their body to moving back and forth. Children like to use their whole body when doing physical activity and playing outdoors in the natural environment offers them the chance and challenge to do this.
Muscle strength in the hands and fingers and coordination of the eyes and hands is boosted when playing with sand, arranging stones etc, thus promoting the development of their fine motor skills.
Structured fitness training outdoors is also much more beneficial than the same done indoors, eg
the diversity of terrain – running on uneven ground requires the use of more muscles, running on a treadmill makes us land on our heel or the middle part of our feet versus running outdoors we land on the fore front of our feet (and tend to raise our knees higher building more strength.
3. Mental health cognitive development
There are studies being conducted every day that underpin the relationship between playing in natural settings and mental health. Playing outdoors strikes a balance between body and mind.
A disconnect with nature, overly structured days, increased obsession with electronic devices and a hurried/pressured lifestyle are the main causes for the reasons that today’s kids mental health being affected.
A Russell Barkley, research states that in a classroom of 30 students, 1 to 3 suffer from ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder! ADD (Attention deficit disorder)
Outdoor fitness stimulates problem solving and creativity.Research has shown that being in contact with nature can improvethe capacities for creativity, problem-solving, emotional and intellectual development and mental alertness.
4. Sensory development
Being outdoors in the open offers with its varied physical structures and diverse sensory stimulation improves children’s perceptual abilities like the sense of smell, touch etc. Listening to birds, feeling the sand, smelling the flowers are all experiences that enrich all the senses in comparison to when the children are in front of a tv or computer which primarily stimulates only the visual sense.
Nature inspires creativity because they have to visualize and are forced to fully use their senses. It is the ideal learning environment; diverse, unstructured and natural stimulation.
Collecting stones, identifying common birds, matching fallen leaves to trees, roaming without a plan, unstructured play, appreciating and marveling at the color on trees are all invaluable exposures to nature and can be therapeutic too.
5. Social and emotional development
Outdoor play offers opportunities for developing social skills and building community interactions. In an unstructured environment children easily make friends and establish relationships without even being aware that they are socialising.
Fitness training outdoors also boosts body confidence and thus self esteem. Outdoor play equals happier children.
6. De-stress – chase the blues away with the greens
Yes, our children have high levels of stress (a word unknown to the children of the past)!! Depression, anxiety, migraines, and their prescriptions – tranquilizers, antidepressants, sleeping pills etc are all becoming more on more common with pediatrics. Loss of free time, a rushed lifestyle and a disconnect with nature are the main causes.
Studies have shown stress levels in children fall within minutes of seeing green spaces. Did you know that the reason the colour green triggers a relaxation response is because it is in the middle of the spectrum and falls in the central part of our retina?
New research has have shown that playing in natural environments can help children better manage stress, improve attention spans and enhance learning. ‘Green outdoor space lessens brain fatigue’ confirm scientists using data from mobile electroencephalography (EEG).
Running outside, breathing in fresh air helps children to release stress, burn steam while exploring ideas and emotions. It develops a sense of wonder and their relationship with the world establishes a strong self esteem.
7. Immunity building and better eyesight
Basking in the sun even for 10 to 15 minutes a day, boosts our ‘sunshine vitamin’ levels. Vitamin D has tremendous healing powers and can help protect children from a wide range of ailments from heart diseases to osteoporosis and even some forms of cancer. It builds immunity and bones.
Playing outdoors protects our eyesight; it improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness. Cambridge University scientists did a study which says that every hour spent outdoors each week can reduce a child’s chance of becoming short-sighted by two per cent!
8. Future healthy adults
Children who are exposed to playing outdoors grow into adults who love outdoor physical activities. The love for nature once established at a young age results in healthy adults with lesser chances of serious illnesses.
9. Environmental consciousness
Playing outdoors is pivotal in establishing a connection between children and nature. It builds their conceptions and values. They establish their attitudes to the environment and will influence the way they protect it in the future. A love for nature and a sense of harmony with it goes a long way in a feeling of well being we develop and sustain all our lives.
It’s time then to move outdoors, to shift our online children; offline and outside. Whether it’s cycling, running, doing Yoga, running with your pet or even just climbing trees or skipping rope, playing in the natural environment not only builds active, healthy bodies but also benefits our intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Outdoor fitness training is important to our holistic development and contributes to our fitness, mental alertness and general well-being. Do you have a fitness regime with your kids too? Share it with us!
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