How to encourage outdoor play


Playing is essential for child development. The game helps to explore, learn about society and live with others, and promotes the physical, cognitive and emotional development of boys and girls. Children experiment, interact with others, and enjoy their environment, which contributes to their growth and overall well-being . When the game is also carried out outdoors , they access a space to have fun and relax while they can connect with nature.

However, in today’s society there is a decline in outdoor play compared to previous generations: the use of public space by children, who previously spent hours and hours outdoors and often participated in large groups, he is now more limited in terms of time, partners and activities.

More sedentary activities

This is motivated by changes in our lifestyle, where there is an increase in structured activities , mostly sedentary, together with the increase in the use of electronic devices (video games, social networks…) that have changed the gaming preferences of many children.

On the other hand, in many urban areas access to green spaces has decreased and vehicle traffic has increased. The lack of open gaming zones in neighborhoods is seen as a major obstacle to the growth opportunities that gaming offers.

At the same time, there is increased concern on the part of parents, who tend to be more concerned about the safety of their children , with increased awareness of potential risks in outdoor environments. This prevents children from having the opportunity to play freely without supervision.

But because of the developmental importance of children’s experimentation and learning to manage risk, it is wise to strike a balance between understandable safety demands and children’s needs for free play.

Friendly cities

It’s important to recognize these challenges and look for ways to encourage spontaneous, outdoor play. Cities should be organized thinking much more about children. It is necessary that they can be on the street, that there are play spaces, local parks and safe routes, both to these parks and to schools, which children can access independently.

There are reports from the European Union and the World Health Organization that highlight the importance of active and free play and physical activity for the comprehensive development of children. They provide recommendations for public institutions, parents and educators to promote play spaces to encourage outdoor play in children’s daily lives.

The role of adults is also important in encouraging and supporting this type of play: parents, educators and policy makers can and should play a key role in creating supportive environments, providing opportunities and motivating children to participate in activities at the same time. fresh air.

What should parents and teachers do?

Among the ways in which parents and teachers can promote free play we can point out:

  1. Allow children to choose their own games and toys by providing them with a safe space to play , as children enjoy more when they are free to explore and discover things for themselves.
  2. Promote a greater range of games for children, in terms of time and space, involving more informal outdoor activities and more school breaks to promote physical activity at school
  3. Provide construction materials that allow them to exercise their imagination and creativity. It is also interesting to provide suitable equipment to play outdoors such as balls, bicycles, swings…
  4. Children enjoy playing with their parents and educators, so it is important to get involved in their games: encourage them and help them create new rules and variations . Try to generate joint routines that promote the change of sedentary activities for outdoor activities and sports, visits to parks or gardens, excursions, camping, etc.
  5. Reinforce their achievements and celebrate their successes to foster this fun and exciting part of children’s lives, and show them that play is an important way to learn and explore the world around them.

And what can the authorities do?

The authorities, especially at the municipal level, also play an important role in promoting free play:

  1. Change planning policies to incorporate land use guidelines that are compatible with the needs of children and youth.
  2. Invest in parks and public spaces, creating well-equipped, free, accessible and safe playgrounds for free play that promote active play and the development of physical skills.
  3. Promote the creation of green and natural spaces (gardens, school allotments…) adapted to children so that they can explore nature and connect with the environment.
  4. Foster collaboration with schools and other institutions by organizing outdoor activities for children (festivals, sporting events) that allow children the opportunity to meet other children from diverse backgrounds, have fun and learn new games.

An important facilitating role

While much research has been done on the role of play and how different types of play impact child development, more needs to be done to establish how different types of play support these characteristics in different ways and promote development. and learning at all ages.

In any case, the role of adults in children’s free play is important, since they can act as facilitators, role models, resource providers and guarantors of safe environments in spaces for free play.

Author Bio: Angeles Conde Rodriguez is Associate Professor of Evolutionary and Educational Psychology at the University of Vigo