Few things arouse more fury than the issue of outdoor play. Especially for early years children. Not enough play and we’re creating a generation of obese, isolated, techno-addicts. But not enough supervision and we’re putting young lives at risk of harm. It can seem hard to find the right balance. We spoke to some of our most experienced nannies and childcare practitioners to get their views.

Outdoor play has shrunk over four generations

Apparently today’s children are never allowed to be out of sight of a carer. This is similar to their parents’ experience. But quite different to that of their grandparents and great-grandparents. Most of whom spent considerable periods of time playing with their peers without any adult supervision at all. Latch-key kids and youngsters being put in charge of even younger siblings were commonplace and while nobody would advocate that today. In the USA it’s actually reached the situation where adults are being arrested for allowing their children to play outside unsupervised. Paradoxically they’ve also coined a term for what happens when children aren’t allowed outside.  ‘Nature deficit disorder’. Which leads to a lack of empathy, and can exacerbate conditions like ADHD and anxiety.

Why we stop our children playing outside

With all this evidence it can seem that parents must just be stupid not to encourage outdoor play. Especially at school. But actually there are a couple of good reasons that parents develop concerns about such activities although their concerns are misplaced.

  1. Single children and those who struggle socially may find outdoor play more challenging than anything else. Children from large families often understand how to ‘get involved’ with outdoor games and fun because they do it all the time at home. But solo kids often lack the skill set to integrate into a big group of apparently disorganised and unruly children and can find it downright frightening. Their fears expressed at home cause parents to become worried that their child can’t cope.
  2. Quiet children can find outdoor activity daunting too. More because they prefer lower stimulation’s levels and can find shouting, screaming, running, laughing, movement of trees, water, wind, smells and random sounds all a bit too much. The result is often ‘outdoor meltdowns’.

In both cases the solution is simple. Plan simple outdoor activities where your child has the undivided attention of an adult. Treasure hunts or scavenger hunts are a great way to start. Being able to concentrate on a piece of paper containing a list of clues or a set of items to be found can make the outdoors manageable. Short walks in quiet parks, simple picnic lunches in the garden. All these can help bring the gap between indoors and outdoors and give children the confidence to spend quality time in the natural environment. One good tip is to walk home from a social event at least once a week. This teaches a child to navigate and allows them to develop an understanding of weather. How to dress appropriately for time outdoors and even gets them used to the changing seasons.

When playing outside is difficult

For a few children. Those born prematurely, asthmatics and children with auto-immune issues. Extra care and supervision may be required if the weather is too hot to too cold for them. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to play outside. Just that nanny and any other responsible adult may need to watch them more closely and have supplies on hand to deal with any issues. Inhalers obviously need to be carried. For winter play chemical hot packs wrapped in a towel can be a boon. While for summer frozen cool-packs, similarly wrapped up and hats with nape protectors help children adjust their temperature to the weather.

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