Outdoor PlayPlaytime Latest

06/02/2008 – Outdoor Play

Most parents today will have great memories of playing outside for hours and hours, games interrupted only by the need to run home for something to eat before heading back out to play again. But what might have been quite a typical day for parents would probably be quite unusual for their children. In fact, according to Tim Gill, author of ‘No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society’ (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation) nowadays few people under twenty five will have much memory of playing out alone as children.

From an adult perspective, this is very understandable. There is a lot of traffic on the roads, the media is full of stories of abduction, bullying, and sexual abuse and if nothing else happens, children might fall and break a limb while we aren’t there to watch over them. For one reason or another, parents are often just too anxious to allow their children wander out to play alone. They will take them to a playground and watch over them, take them to the swimming club,  dancing classes or whatever the recreation of choice, or invite friends home to play. But by doing our best to ensure our children are safe, we are not necessarily doing what’s best for them.

Out of fear for our children’s welfare we restrict the world of childhood, thereby inhibiting their opportunities to learn, blossom, thrive,  and enjoy life from the unique perspective of a child. Tim Gill lists a number of reasons why we should try to overcome our fears and allow our children to take risks:

  1. Encounters with certain risks help children learn how to manage those risks, eg swimming/cycling.
  2. Most children have an appetite for risk taking which if not fed will lead them to seek out situations in which they may be exposed to greater risks.
  3. Benefits of risk taking in outdoor play are outweighed by the knock on positive effect of health and developmental benefits.
  4. Long term benefits of risk encounters help children build personality through facing up to adverse circumstances where they know there is the possibility of injury or loss. Overcoming challenging situations is an essential part of living a meaningful life.

In this excellent book, Gill argues that there is a need to look again at the extent to which adult fears for children are founded on real risk and weigh up the balance between protecting children and giving them their freedom to grow. Allowing children the freedom to wander and explore as they play is profoundly important for their development.  Indeed most parents would love to see their children wander off out to play all day long in the local park or wherever it may be.

We could start by giving priority to children over traffic. Implementing the HomeZones scheme as promised in the National Play Policy would help. If children were outside playing their neighbours would be more likely to know them and keep an eye out for them.

It’s a big debate, but finding ways to overcome our fears and allow our children out to play is well worth discussing.