by Hannah V.
When we think of health services we often imagine doctors, nurses, medications, and hospitals. What if there was a remedy to some of todays most common health issues that is not a new magical medical advancement? I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Stand up. Walk to the door. Open it. Ladies and gentlemen, breathe it in. The antidote is known as the “Great Outdoors”!
Research supports that outdoor recreation addresses social, emotional, physical, and cognitive well-being (Godbey, 2009). In fact, simply seeing green spaces has proven to reduce a child’s stress. It seems like common sense that playing outdoors is good for our health. Unfortunately, youth are not taking advantage of the power of nature. The David Suzuki Foundation found that 70 percent of 13- to 20-year-olds spend an hour or less outside each day. Moreover, I had to lift my jaw off the floor when I read that chickens and prisoners get more outdoor time than children (Klasky, 2014). This has major implications for the positive and healthy development of youth.
Arguably, society fails to stress the importance of outdoor recreation for children. Today’s children are more inclined to glue their eyes to a screen than step outside. One article supports that in some instances children would rather do homework or chores than play outside (Winter, 2013). This is disturbing to me! Playing outdoors is an opportunity for learning and asset development. The Search Institutes 40 developmental assets focus on the critical dimensions of adolescents’ lives that support optimal youth development. The more assets a youth can develop the more likely they are to thrive and have a healthy transition into adulthood. The great outdoors facilitates development of a variety of assets. Children have the opportunity to build positive peer relationships and experience a caring neighbourhood. Moreover, outdoor play is conducive to establishing positive values, social competencies, resiliency and personal power.
As noted, technology has had major implications for the outdoor play of children. Ben Klasky presents an interesting way to harness the power of technology, for ‘good’ not ‘evil’. Klasky brilliantly states “there’s an app for that”, suggesting that there are numerous apps that focus on exploring the outdoors- from identifying creatures to geocaching.
In the article Let ‘Em Out! The Many Benefits of Outdoor Play In Kindergarten Holley Korbey introduces the Swiss Walderkindergartens. Rain or shine, these children ages 4-7 spend the entire school day playing outdoors. The core of the program revolves around physical literacy, social interaction, and emotional well-being; as opposed to a strict schedule including math or reading. The documentary “School’s Out: Lessons From a Forest Kindergarten” compares the Walderkindergartens to a typical American kindergarten. I encourage you to watch the 36-minute film to see how this outdoor play positively contributes to development.
All of my favourite childhood memories involve playing outdoors. As a youngster, my parents would have to beg me to come inside for dinner. Playing outside gave me the opportunity to use my imagination and problem solve with my neighborhood pals. I think that my free play outside enabled me to take risks, build my physical literacy, and develop social competencies. Furthermore, exploring the environment provided me with opportunities to build both bonding and bridging social capital as well as interpersonal skills. Research supports that youth developing social capital and social capacities is linked to decreased engagement in risky behaviours and increased academic success. Playing kick the can, scaling trees, and making mud pies has without a doubt shaped the person I have grown to be.
The lack of outdoor-based play has resulted in increases in emotional and psychological disorders, decreased resiliency, and increased obesity. Society as a whole can benefit from promoting outdoor play. The screen of an ipad cannot replace the exploration, discovery, and growth that a child experiences in the great outdoors. Simply put, some fresh air everyday keeps the doctor away!
Godbey, G. (2009). Outdoor recreation, health, and wellness: Understanding and enhancing the relationship. Retrieved from https://recpro.memberclicks.net/assets/Library/Public_Health/outdoor_recreation_health_and_wellness.pdf
Gardner, S. (2012). Survey: Young Canadians spend an hour or less outside each day. Retrieved from http://www.outdoorcanada.ca/survey-young-canadians-spend-an-hour-or-less-outside-each-day
Korbey, H. (2013). Let ‘em out! The many benefits of outdoor play in kindergarten. Retrieved from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/07/let-em-out-the-many-benefits-of-outdoor-play-in-kindergarten/
Klasky, B. (2014). Our children deserve as much outdoor time as inmates and chickens. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-klasky/our-children-deserve-as-m_b_4791244.html
Winter, K. (2013). Children today would rather read, do chores or even do HOMEWORK than play outside – and they get out half as much as their parents did. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2307431/Children-today-read-chores-HOMEWORK-play-outside.html
Search Institute. (2009). Developmental assets: A profile of your youth. Retrieved from http://www.mission.ca/wp-content/uploads/Mission-Community-results-40-assets-3.pdf