This week’s guest blog is from Margon Van Toyl, volunteer at the Midlothian Community Hospital Gardens, who talks about PlayOutsideDay and the importance of encouraging children to spend less times indoors.
A new organisation, PlayOutsideDay, has been created to encourage people to play outside on the first Saturday of every month. They offer ideas and suggestions on play and will send you a monthly reminder to play outside on the designated Saturday.
What has happened to us that we need to have a reminder sent to us to remind us to play outside one Saturday a month? Children should play outside every day, not just one day a month. Have we forgotten how to play?
I used to play outside all the time. I would play on the street, ride my bike, play hide and seek, hopscotch, play in the park, in gardens, on derelict pieces of land. We didn’t need printed out sheets or flyers to give us ideas on how to play. We just played in our local area, with whatever was at hand and whoever was available to play. Being sent to your room was seen as punishment and prevented you from playing with your friends. Today, children seem to prefer to spend time in their room than play outside.
A recent study by the National Trust, found that children are playing outside on average 4 hours a week. This is less than half the amount of time their parents played outside. Should we be concerned in this reduction in play outside? Outdoor play leads to physically and mentally stronger children, who are more confident and socially better adjusted. Being outside is fun. You discover new things and places, it uses your imagination and gives you much needed freedom. Spending time outside with family develops a lifetime habit of physical activity and also creates lifelong memories.
Why are children spending less time playing outdoors? Technology is a big factor, TV, video games, computers, toys etc. Children aged five to 16 spend an average of six hours in front of a screen a day. Other factors that stop children from playing outside, is lack of available space to play and fear of strangers. Parents and families are generally busier and many children have after school clubs and activities which means there is little time left to play.
At the recent Midlothian Community Garden open day I facilitated outdoor play activities. I had a mudkitchen, magnifying glasses, clay, cuddly toys, ropes, tarpaulin and a small pop up tent. Families visiting the gardens could come along to this area and play. Many small children started playing with what was there and didn’t need to be told what to do or how to play. Mudpies were made, a father and son played tug of war, clay-creatures were created, and bugs were found on plants and under rocks. Parents and children were engaged with each other; playing, exploring and being creative through a few items that were provided.
As parents we need to take and initiative and play with our children. We need to make the effort to spend time with our children and take them outside, to a local park, a woodland, the beach or a community garden. Don’t just set aside the first Saturday of the month, but go outside to play every Saturday of month.