Outdoor play as we all know is a free-play where a child is allowed to choose the activity of the child’s interest. It could be:
- A swing in the neighborhood park
- A slide in children’s garden
- It could be games for some children like running, catch and go and hide and seek
- Sand lovers would like to make castles in a sand pit or collect shells at the beach
- It could be sports for some children like badminton, football, and cycling
- Most preschoolers love to ride their tricycles
Instinctively children like outdoor play but research has shown that more than 90% parents have security concerns about outdoor play. Very few parents actually indulge their young ones in outdoor activities in today’s time. They just have no time as most of them are working long hours. No wonder we have to write about its importance to bring back focus of young parents to one of the important aspects of child development.
According to AAP (American Academy of Pediatricians) clinical report, child’s play is not frivolous.
Rather, play is
- Brain building
- A central part of healthy child development
- A key to execute function skills
- A buffer against negative impacts of stress.
It builds a bond between parent and child. Pediatrician Michel Yogman, lead author of AAP report says that playtime is so important for children that he recommends that all doctors should write a prescription for play. He stresses that play with peers and parents is fundamentally important for developing a suite of 21st century skills, including social, emotional, language and cognitive skills, all needed by the next generation in an economically competitive world that requires collaboration and innovation.
Just a few years ago, playing outside with friends was preferred anytime and children used to cry and fight with their parents to be allowed to go out. That was before the augmentation of computer age three decades ago. Bombardment of Information Technology and computers, have taken away the free playtime of children. Even toddlers are not spared. They would eat with a video or a movie. Preschoolers are seen glued to television, video games, computers and mobiles at a time when they should be playing out. Perhaps these gadgets provide them with more promising entertainment than any other sports or games or outdoor play.
Mostly we parents are responsible for this though we do it subconsciously. If we become a little more aware of our actions and learn the importance of outdoor play for children, our children would blossom physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. I will talk from my experience of raising two daughters. My elder daughter was born in 1980s before computers came to India but yes, TV was very much there. She loved playing with all her building friends down in the building. It was with great difficulty and a lot of persuasion that we would bring her back. Outdoor play has helped her stay physically fit and slim, social, cooperative, friendly and a good team player. She was a poor eater so when I discovered that she was fond of cartoons, I would feed her while she watched cartoon network. How oblivious was I of the harm it did to my child! She would not realize what and how much she ate. She became a fussy eater and it was quite a struggle for the family to feed her. That’s where my sister, Dr Neena Gulabani (Director, ALC), came to our rescue. She was instrumental in making her enjoy food while narrating stories related to food she ate. So you see how important it is to install right programs in our children from childhood. First few years in our child’s life are crucial where right parenting is required.
My younger daughter was born in 1990s when I had a computer at home and I was learning Web Designing and other stuff on it. That made her too, fascinated and totally glued to the computer. Mostly she would play video games and do some educational stuff. I taught her Photoshop when she was 3 years old. She would refuse to go out to play. I had to really push her and had to put greater effort in taking her to different parks and gardens twice or thrice a week so that she developed interest in outdoor activities. But she loved her books and computer! She was fond of food and since her physical activity was not optimum, she was towards a plump side as a kid though cognitively she has always been very smart and academically, brilliant. Luckily she became conscious in her teens and on her own she would go off chocolates and cheese and also took up a sport in school which helped her knock off her baby fat. It’s important that we teach our children healthy and balanced lifestyle from the very beginning.
The challenge is way more for today’s moms as most of them are working moms. Time is at a premium. 21st century has brought in smart phones and social networking that are way more addictive and time consuming and preschoolers are very good with technology. They know how to operate computers, smart TVs, Tablets, smart phones and other gadgets in the house. They want to imitate their parents. Parents themselves are hooked to TV, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook in little time they have after working hours. There is an itching need to catch up on virtual reality. This has become a relaxation tool as much as it is a necessity in today’s fast paced life. So the young ones are either watching TV or playing games on computers or fiddling with their parents’ smart phones. Parents sometimes feel proud of their smart children who can operate fb and post pictures on Instagram. Obesity and Social Disconnect are becoming big problems in our children today. If child’s free-play is ignored we would be staring at physical and mental problems in the future generations.
Personal Counselor & Writer