Talking about the outdoors is somewhat far-fetched in today’s world. It is natural to blame the recent shift to an indoor life on the pandemic. However, if we were to look back a little, life has been predominantly within closed walls for at least 30 years now. Growing up in the 2000s it was not uncommon to hear parents, recall stories to their children about their drastically different childhood – playing with sand, stones, and water, running around with their friends on empty lands, plucking mangoes from trees, etc. While staying indoors may also impact adults in lots of different ways, the impact it has on children is a lot more profound.
The outdoors is vast. It presents various unknown objects and spaces to children. It allows for a child to really develop a relationship with the world around them through the method of ‘play’. An object passes through various dimensions of meanings in a child’s imagination. Psychoanalysis considers this to be one of the most central attributes of childhood and child development. Children can imagine airplanes out of pens, and clouds out of pillows. Some may argue that this is possible indoors too, but the key difference is the sense of freedom that the outside provides which the inside lacks. Additionally, the inside is made of things and spaces that are far too familiar for the child to create new interactions with every day. The outdoors, whether for play, or for education, affects children in four predominant ways – Emotionally, Socially, Intellectually and Physically.
Emotional Benefits of Outdoor Play
To reiterate the previous point, the main factor that distinguishes the outdoors from the indoors is the sense of freedom that a child experiences outdoors. Even when the parent is around the child outdoors, the child is able to perceive and experience various things on their own accord – a secure play zone for instance. As a practice, this experience of freedom through outdoor play, allows children to improve their sense of independence. They are able to explore and figure their own interests out, which improves their levels of confidence.
Indoors, children are forced to use only one sense predominantly – eyesight. In the outdoors, the child experiences stimuli to almost all their senses, allowing to them to develop sensory experiences which will help them as they grow older. This trains them to respond better to different sensory stimuli as adults.
Social Benefits of Outdoor Play
Staying indoors with parents and siblings for extended periods of time can create a claustrophobic atmosphere for students. These environments tend to get loud, and often induce the feeling of competition in children, not only with their siblings, but parents too. This can make children feel intimidated by their parents. Leaving this atmosphere every now and then can help children break out of that feeling and develop a more free-flowing bond with their family members. This helps children be more open and loving towards their parents.
As mentioned earlier, being outdoors allows children to experience things in the way that they want to. This means that they also make friendships based on their own free perception of others, allowing them to become more aware of their own needs and attitudes.
This awareness extends to empathy as well. Children who spend more time in the outdoors with other peers, learn to read and understand other people’s behaviors and emotions better. They learn to adapt themselves to situations better, and to respond to other people’s social cues better as well.
Not just that, children who are able to form good memories in the outdoors, with their peers and nature together, often grow up to care more about preserving the environment.
Intellectual Benefits of Outdoor Play
The increased opportunity to create new games in the outdoors allows children, not only develop feelings of autonomy, but also to improve their thinking skills. They develop organization skills, and decision-making skills, in addition to improving their ability to think critically. They also learn to create and follow rules, and to solve different kinds of problems. Since outdoor play involves playing with other children, they also learn to develop team-building skills and learn to work with others.
Furthermore, children who play outdoors with other peers from different households, are able to improve their communication skills. Control over language is one of the key indicators of intellectual growth in young ones. Making conversation important, and more challenging, increases children’s grasp over language and communication, improving their intellectual health.
One of the most important lessons of outdoor play for children is that learning can happen anywhere. Children learn best in low-pressure, fun environments. When children learn from their peers, or even adults, within these conditions, they are able to appreciate the practice of learning and the importance of knowledge. They learn to apply themselves, and grow up to be better at adapting to different schools/colleges and workplaces.
Physical Benefits of Outdoor Play
Playing outdoors provides children with more area to walk, run and jump. Activities like these allow children to improve their motor skills, their sense of balance, agility and coordination. Children who play outdoors are also more likely to develop skills in particular sports that they’re interested in. This could improve their chances of being a part of sporting events in school and college.
We all know that, in comparison to the previous generation, there are a lot more cases of obesity in kids these days. A study in 2010, conducted among the more developed cities in the world, concluded that 1 in 3 children suffer from obesity. Playing outdoors includes moving around rather than simple visual and auditory consumption. Children with lower body mass index at younger ages tend to grow up healthier, and playing outdoors can definitely help in this regard.
Obesity is linked to other more dangerous health risks as well. Considering the vast availability of unhealthy food options that often catch children’s fancy these days, playing outdoors becomes all the more important to alleviate these potential health risks for children. Furthermore, children indoors tend to develop eye-sight issues early on, in comparison to children who spend more time outdoors. Children who spend more time outdoors have better overall physical health, in addition to a more balanced mental health as well.
The important thing to keep in mind is that play is important, and outdoor play is all the more beneficial and enjoyable to children than the indoors. Let us hope that the risk of pandemic continues to be on the decline so that all the little ones can enjoy their childhood outdoors!