As summer winds down it can be harder to get outside. With the start of school, indoor activities, and weather that isn’t always as agreeable, it can be more challenging to commit to spending time outdoors. Like most things, awareness is the key to breaking this trend. With kids back to school, there can be a misguided belief that children are spending plenty of time outdoors. Depending on school mandates and philosophies there is no guarantee children are getting the amount, or type, of outdoor activity they need for their development. The solution to this isn’t to add more to the schedule; a concept that has huge financial as well as developmental implications. Instead, the answer lies in simplifying life and providing children with the same thing that generations before them have enjoyed, unstructured outdoor play.
Times Have Changed
Our society dictates that we lead exceptionally busy lives with very little ‘down time.’ This concept applies to us from a very young age right through to late adulthood and beyond. The school day tends to reflect this. It is a highly structured day where, aside from short recesses and lunch, has very little time allocated for outdoor play. So, if you are a child in a school that doesn’t place value on outdoor education or outdoor play, you may be spending very little time outside. This is an alarming thought.
In order to keep up with the fast paced expectations of modern society we seek to find solutions by scheduling children’s lives. This idea is never more pronounced than during the back to school transition period. There are so many reasons this happens. It may be out of a childcare necessity or a belief that the greater the exposure the more experience a child will have towards their future. The reality is, no matter the reason, this probably isn’t exposing them to what they need most, some ‘down time’ exploring and enjoying the outdoors without a set structure.
So, How Do We Make Downtime Happen?
Find avenues to ensure that kids are engaging in unstructured outdoor play. For some, the key is to strike a balance between structured activities and ensuring children have free play opportunities. A great model to consider is limiting the number of activities children are enrolled in to ensure there is ample opportunity to engage in free play experiences outside of school time Alternatively, if structured activities play a role in your child care needs, consider the possibility of making arrangements that would facilitate open-ended play opportunities. Above all, make sure that part of your back to school commitment is ensuring kids have the time they need outdoors for their development and gives them an opportunity for some ‘down time.’
Some examples of unstructured outdoor play opportunities include:
- a weekly playground commitment
- visiting a local park or green space
- a play date at an outdoor venue
- free time to explore a yard
Getting outside provides children with an opportunity to explore, uses their imagination, develops ingenuity, works on their interpersonal skills, allows them to be active, encourages a greater awareness of nature/the environment, develops patience and… the list could go on forever. It also teaches them that being outdoors can provide them with an avenue for some ‘down time.’
Outdoor Play on School Days?
As many ramp up for back to school and settle into the routines that come with this time of year. It is important to ensure kids are still getting outside and benefitting from all that being outdoors has to offer. Just as the David Suzuki 30 X 30 Nature Challenge encouraged people to get outside for 30 minutes a day, for 30 days. Our challenge is to ensure kids are getting the time outside they need. The first step is making changes in the way we schedule our children’s daily activities. The next step is working towards ensuring that schools see the importance of getting kids outside.