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Why You Must Never Compromise On Outdoor Free Play For Your Child

A friend of mine tells this story of how she strapped her exercise tracker band on her 4-year old son, and he managed to reach her 10,000 step goal even before breakfast time, and by dinner had won her numerous achievement badges and catapulted her to top leader category. There is both a sense of awe and irony in this story.

We are inherently born to move. As infants, we move to understand the parts of our bodies and how to control them. As young toddlers, we learn to interact with adults using our bodies. As children, through physical activity, we learn about the world and about ourselves. And then somewhere along the way, we become adults who sit still for hours at a desk and struggle to find time dedicated to movement.

Why movement is good for your child:

I am not about to discuss the effects of a lack of movement for adults – there are numerous fitness experts who flood the internet with articles on that subject. I do however want to bring to your attention why movement of any kind and preferably in the outdoors, is good for children.

Children spend the first years of their lives developing their sensory system, their sense of balance, acquiring fundamental motor skills, body control, habits and insights into how they can protect their health and quality of life. So they need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis to develop strong bodies and minds. They need to be able to freely move, in all directions and for hours at a time in order to grow strong and confident.

The importance of active free play:

Learning in the real world is the baseline to a positive formative experience. The Scandinavian approach that we follow at Papagoya Kindergarten, is to seek outdoor environments that promote active free play. By playing outdoors, children build their core strength and balance which in turn will help them navigate different terrains, all the while building their confidence. Remarkably, this strong core and balance is what eventually supports them in sitting still for extended periods.

At the Papagoya Kindergarten that I co-founded, the children spend close to 80% of their time in the outdoors, under our mango and guava trees. They walk, run, jump, climb, chase each other around and squeal. They may not all speak and yet they find ways to express themselves using their whole bodies. Being physically active is the natural way to be, for even the youngest children. We truly believe that children learn with their whole bodies before they even begin to learn with their minds.

Children need the outdoors and they need open spaces. Open public spaces and specifically parks are considered holy ground in most parts of the world. These natural open spaces amidst a city not only provide the necessary breathing space for local communities but also become areas for children to come together and interact with each other. Even a simple walk among the trees is known to be an invigorating and restorative experience, and this has been scientifically attributed to the therapeutic effect of wood essential oils found in trees. I recently went to a movie screening of a wonderful documentary called The Call of the Forest and learnt about the Japanese ritual of Forest Bathing or Shinrin-yoku. It is the act of walking in a forest and actively breathing the air and is actively encouraged by the Japanese Government.

Nature- the most patient teacher: 

Nature is the most patient, knowledgeable and giving teacher. And so it is through active free play outdoors where children start to build many of the foundational life skills. When they are outdoors, their senses are fully ignited and their young bodies are challenged by the uneven, unpredictable, ever-changing terrain. And this in turn also becomes the most natural way of developing focus.

Through sensory impressions and movement, children gain experience, skills and knowledge in a number of areas. The contact that children have with other children often starts with body language and bodily activities and this is important to the development of social competence. Along with a good healthy diet, and proper alternation between activity and rest, children are able to develop a healthy body. They are also able to develop a positive self-image through physical achievements. Playing outdoors allows them to develop body control, gross motor skills and fine motor skills, sense of rhythm and motor sensitivity.

So this weekend, instead of taking the kids to a mall, drive out of the city and go for a walk among the trees. And if that isn’t accessible, here are a few guidelines that we follow at Papagoya that could inspire you to encourage your child to learn with his/her whole body.

  • Organize activities in such a way that there is a planned alternation between periods of rest, activity and mealtime. Make your child aware of the difference between activities, and slowly encourage them to self-regulate and form good habits, attitudes and knowledge regarding diet, hygiene, activity and rest.
  • Facilitate and provide inspiration for safe and challenging physical games and activities for everyone in the family, regardless of gender, physical, psychological and social circumstances. Encourage physical play that breaks traditional gender roles, allowing boys and girls to participate on equal footing.
  • Inspire children to seek out physical challenges and try out their physical potential. Support their ideas for games, and suggest play and games in which they are physically active and experience joy through a sense of achievement and community.

By encouraging and engaging your children to stay active and learn with their whole bodies, and by spending time with them in the outdoors - you will also benefit from the movement and natural environment.

You may also like: Creating World Champions: Cricketer Ajit Agarkar On The Importance Of Sports For Kids

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