Risky outdoor play is good for your kids. Here's why
Saturday, June 13, 2015, 10:55 AM - In an age where many children spend more time in front of a screen than a window, the argument for getting outside is supported by new research out of Canada.
The risks associated with outdoor play in natural environments have proven to have positive effects for developing children, according to a new study.
Combined research from the University of British Columbia and the Child and Family Research Institute at B.C.'s Children's Hospital shows that children who participated in outdoor physical activity displayed greater physical and social health.
These findings are the result of more than 20 studies that focused on health and behaviour among children involved in different types of risky play.
Being able to climb, jump, tumble and explore independently not only increased physical health, but helped to improve social interactions, creativity and resilience among kids.
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Brock Elementary School Natural Playscape, Vancouver, British Columbia
Playground safety concerns
The childhood experience is quite different from that of generations before. Remember playing with friends in the streets until the telltale call home for dinner? It’s a concept most children would not be familiar with today.
Outdoor play has often been discouraged among young generations mainly because of safety concerns, the fear of injury and ‘helicopter parenting;’ a parenting style that sees caregivers ‘hovering over’ their child’s every move.
Sledding bans were widespread in Canada this past winter. Parents in Washington, D.C. were threatened with charges when their children were found playing at a park unsupervised.
However, heightened playground safety standards and too much supervision has prevented children from participating and learning from risky outdoor activities, researchers say.
Getting back to nature
While physical activity among children is a necessary facet of a healthy lifestyle, getting outside can make a world of difference.
Playgrounds that feature a more natural environment such as grass, trees, rocks and logs also have positive impacts on a child's health, behaviour and social development. "These spaces give children a chance to learn about risk and learn about their own limits," said Mariana Brussoni, lead author of the study.
Natural playgrounds also allow children to reconnect with nature itself, an opportunity that may be sorely missing from their daily routine as urban populations continue to swell.
Natural playgrounds have begun popping up across the country as park designers, municipalities and school boards gravitate towards this form of organic recreation.
Vancouver, Edmonton and Moncton are among the Canadian cities to recently unveil natural playgrounds, complete with all-natural materials and no manufactured equipment. In Ontario, Collingwood was the first municipality in the province to introduce a law banning plastic and steel playgrounds.
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