Why your child should play outside every day

Outside play is critical to a child’s development as it is a time where social skills are shaped and foundations created.

 Active, unstructured play outdoors is important for the health and development of children.

Back when you were a child, we bet playing outside in the garden was something you did every day. Right? Sadly, things have changed a lot in the last few decades. Today boys and girls seldom go outside to play, choosing instead to spend their time playing computer games and watching TV.

What research says

According to a New Zealand survey of more than 700 eight- to 12-year-olds, their parents and grandparents , only a handful of kids actually play outdoors, indicating a much wider (global) problem among our youth.

Professor Grant Schofield, director of the Auckland University of Technology’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, nearly half of the youngsters do not “play” – defined as unstructured activity outside of school such as an impromptu game of cricket in the garden or kicking a football around – every day.

Children need to “unplug”

In a foreword to the report, Schofield said children needed to “unplug” and venture into the backyard to let their imagination run wild.“Let them take some risks,” he said. “Let them make mistakes. This is how they learn.”

Schofield said that unstructured play was a key to healthy brain development. Active, unstructured play was essential to help youngsters learn important life skills, develop imagination and creativity, and develop social functions and cognitive skills.

“It’s better to learn about risk and consequences and controlling your emotion when you’re eight and up a tree, than when you’re 18 behind the wheel of a Subaru, getting chased by the cops,” he said. “Playtime is critical to a child’s development, especially for 8- to 12-year-olds, as it is a time where future social skills are shaped and foundations for strong relationships with parents, grandparents, and friends are created,” he said.

Schofield, who has three primary school-aged children, said findings in the survey, the first of its kind in New Zealand and sponsored by the Nestle company’s beverage Milo, were “astonishing.” He said it found that nearly half of the youngsters’ free time was spent watching television, playing video games, or looking at other electronic devices. More than one-third said they turned to technology because they had run out of ideas for playing and a similar proportion said they had no one to play with.

The role of parents

Ironically, Schofield said that parents spent more time with their kids today than 20-30 years ago, but most of that time was sitting in cars together.

“Good parenting for much of middle-class is defined as shuttling or chauffeuring children to and from a bunch of after-school activities,” he said. “There are much better ways to accumulate movement for kids and one of those is out in the backyard.”

The survey found that 41 percent of children were too tired after school or had too much homework to play and 42 percent of parents said they struggled to find the time to play with their youngsters.