Outdoor play



How many of the children at your service live in an apartment or townhouse with limited space outside for play and physical activity? Modern urban living often involves higher density housing with limited areas for children to actively explore their environment.

We know that when children display challenging behaviour, it is because at least one of their needs is not being met. This includes the need to run around, explore the natural environment and create imaginative play in open spaces. I know what would happen if my children couldn’t escape outside into the bush. They’d either fill the house with noise and activity and send me crazy, or retreat into quiet, controlled activities while their need for physical activity builds. This need will make itself known later in some form, including through their attitudes and emotions.

However it’s not just a matter of ensuring children can burn off all their energy.  Outdoor play offers different learning opportunities and benefits to indoor play.  Children develop more complex motor skills and movement skills when they’re actively running around outside, and the depth of the natural environment encourages them to engage in more spontaneous play and learning activities. Young children in particular learn through their senses. They’re more likely to use all five senses when they’re outside. Research also shows that outdoor play can reduce children’s anxiety, improve their concentration, enhance their creativity and develop their social skills.

One answer to shrinking backyards may be the reintroduction of staffed public playgrounds. Did you know that staffed playgrounds existed in Australia from the 1930s? They were last seen in Sydney in 1975. “Play yards” are still commonplace in Europe where they are considered to be backyards for families that don’t have their own. Typical features of European play yards are:

  • staff who are responsible for creating safe, enjoyable spaces for children and families. Adults must accompany children aged under 6. When the play yard is not staffed it operates like a normal playground.
  • provision of loose parts like sand toys, ropes, racquets, balls and bikes
  • designed for multi-age use (0-16 years) with large asphalted areas for bikes and ball games and other areas that have low maintenance, robust designs.
  • a simple building “the house” for indoor activities like craft, games and computers.

Do you think staffed ‘play yards’ are something that local councils should consider introducing?

Source: Churchill Fellowship Report by Tanya Vincent



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