Why kids need outdoor play

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

In Australia, we are blessed by good weather and an amazing natural environment. Most suburbs in Sydney have green space for parks and recreation areas. Yet as a society, we seem to be spending less time outdoors due to longer working hours, increasing demands on families, the lure of technology and ‘cotton-wool parents’.

While I understand the rise in parental concerns around keeping students safe, it is important that we see outdoor play as no less as important than what happens inside classrooms. Many of us would have fond memories of weekends heading out on our bikes after breakfast to return only for lunch or dinner. Fresh air, movement and exposure to Vitamin D are important for children’s mental and physical health.

Experts also tell us that outdoor play promotes other important skills like resilience, problem-solving, cooperation, respect and emotional regulation. There is a focus in the early years of learning on outdoor activities because of its fundamental role to development and learning.

We’re told that a lack of sensory stimulation that comes through outdoor play is leading to problems in the classrooms in terms of emotional balance, behaviour and learning difficulties.

In Finland, which often regarded as the ‘gold standard’ in education, outdoor play is seen as stimulating creativity. Young children are encouraged to play outside for at least 90 minutes a day. The argument here is that 15 minutes at recess and 40 minutes at lunch time are not enough time when children are expected to sit in class for six hours a day and then, for so many of them, to tutoring for another few hours.

Children spending less time outdoors is not limited to Australia. There is a growing movement around the world calling on schools to introduce more outdoor lessons and larger blocks of time for outdoor play. Some overseas schools have actually developed outdoor curricula that cover a whole school term.

While I have often argued that schools must change in order to meet the demands of today’s world, there is something of the past that needs to be retained. Striking a balance between indoor and outdoor learning is vital for producing healthy, well-rounded children.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

Published 21 April 2017

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