With our busy lives and commitments to our children to be sure their everyday needs are met, we often forget to just stop and play with our children.
Today is a chance for us to look at the benefits of outdoor play. I want to encourage all caregivers to connect with their children outside, no matter what the weather forecast says! If it's raining, put on your rubber boots and play in the rain and splash in the puddles. If the sun is poking through, slap on the sunscreen and go outside and play.
Encourage fun, self-directed, free-range play!
Today, children are often scheduled with structured activities such as hockey and soccer practices and piano lessons. Equally important to these scheduled opportunities is the free time for children to dream and explore their own limits. This outdoor active time builds confidence, autonomy and resilience and helps children develop skills and solve problems while giving them the opportunity to learn their own interests and limits.
Play - how much is the right amount?
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 180 minutes (3 hours) of daily physical activity for children ages 3-4 at any level of intensity. The guidelines then change for children ages 5 and up to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous play per day.
Unfortunately, only 14% of children are meeting these guidelines. This drops to only 5% who are meeting the guidelines for children aged 12-17.
How to play?
Reduce screen time. Unplug and play. Make playing and exploring our neighbourhoods the reward rather than more screen time. Let's embrace the beauty of living in the north! Everything is so accessible and nature is all around us. And it's free! This may mean letting the child take the lead. You may get a glimpse into what the world looks like through your child's eyes: spending time bent over exploring the colour in the rocks or examining pussy willows that you revisit later as they become leaves throughout the spring.
The benefits of play are across the board
The most obvious is that it is fun, but play also helps release tension, develops imagination, and allows for problem-solving and mastering new concepts. Play builds self-esteem, leadership skills, and reduces anxiety. Playing socially builds on co-operation and sharing as well as increases our children's ability to resolve conflict. Outdoor play helps with gross motor skills, which build strong hearts, muscles and bones. Being active everyday as a child helps develop a lifelong habit of daily exercise as an adult.
Finally, be a good role model. Live an active life and rediscover the fun and freedom of outside play. While encouraging the whole family to "wear the gear," wear your helmet when biking or skateboarding together. Turn your cell off. Make play a priority. Set aside time every day for free play and a chance to connect and have fun with your child today.
Reflect back to your own childhood playtime. I want to encourage everyone to build those same quality experiences for our children today! Let's get everyone outside and active, having fun while promoting safe, active outdoor play.