Let’s talk about children’s health

Let’s talk with Dr Michelle Scholten about the importance of Children’s health and Outdoor Play.

Changes in current society are affecting childhood experiences. Time for outdoor play is diminishing, contributing to more sedentary lifestyles, disconnected from the natural world. Recognising the importance of outdoor play for young children’s healthy growth, is vital.

The importance of play for children’s healthy development is supported by a strong body of research. Play promotes cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being, offering the opportunity for children to thrive and learn. Through play, children can experiment, solve problems, think creatively, cooperate with others, etc., gaining a deeper knowledge about his/herself and the world. Unstructured play, in which the child can decide what to do, with whom and how, promotes positive self-esteem, autonomy, and confidence.

While playing outside, children are exposed to sunlight, natural elements, and open air. These things are important for healthy bone development, stronger immune system and physical activity. The need to be physically active from an early age is particularly relevant if we consider the rising rates of childhood obesity and being overweight.

Opportunities for outdoor play are diminishing, as a result of globalisation, technology and urban growth. There is a growing culture of fear about possible accidents that might happen affecting parent’s and professionals attitude towards outdoor play. Children tend to be kept indoors, and occupied with structured activities, often controlled by adults.

According to the research, these fears are brought about by misinterpretations of reality and are amplified by social media. For example, the fear about child’s abduction is not linked to an increase in these type of crimes, but a greater emphasis  these situations online.

Children are often being occupied for most hours during the day as parents work long hours and want to guarantee the best opportunities for children to acquire different skills and knowledge. Scheduled academic activities and sports often occupy children’s free-time. Going from one activity to another, children tend to be driven by car, without experiencing nature and the outdoor environment.

We need to be aware that Children need unstructured play outdoors, so as to support their well-being, learning and development. Time and space to play outside needs to be integrated into education planning and intervention, starting in day-care and kindergarten as well as school.

Reference: The importance of outdoor play for young children’s healthy development.

By Gabriela Bento and Gisela Dias in Porto Biomedical Journal Volume 2, Issue 5, September–October 2017, Pages 157-160