True Belonging and Playing Outdoors

man in black jacket beside boy in pink jacket holding plush toy during daytime

We are all guilty of putting on a movie, giving our children an iphone or ipad or turning on the cartoons just to get a bit of piece and quiet. We are so busy and life can get so hectic that sometimes you just need that time out from the kids, when the are engrossed in the latest PJ Mask episode, go get the washing done or cook dinner. The schedules we have for our kids just seems to get more and more hectic. Between swimming and soccer, tutoring, music and drama classes there is little time for us, as parents. to have a little down time without being continually pestered by our little balls of love.

But what damage is this screen time and busy schedule doing to our children? How is continually designated time altering the way our children think?

Over the past 30 years, the life of the child has become vastly different. We remember roaming the streets on our bikes, climbing trees, making forts and playing games with our friend until dark and then racing home in time for dinner, doing our best to beat the street lamps as they went on one by one. Legs pedalling furiously, hearts pounding, puling up just in time to see mum laying out the plates on the table. “Made it!”

We would enjoy a game of kicks in the park, informal games of footy or cricket on the street, picking teams and praying you weren’t the last one chosen. Remembering scores from the game the previous day and negotiating new rules to fit the context we were playing in.  Where has that childhood gone for the children of today? Our kids are much more likely to be engrossed in a video game than go outside. They seem to need the direction of a coach to play a game of soccer. What has happened in the last few years that has seen the deterioration of our beloved childhood into the childhood experienced by the tech generation.

First, let me say that the cheeky movie or cartoon sessions to get the dinner cooked isn’t hurting your children. We all need time to veg and switch off and children are no different. Problems arise when screen time starts to out weigh other types of constructive and active play. We have all seen the families out to dinner and every member of the family is engrossed in a screen.

If you know that this has been your family, it might be worth sitting up some rules about screen time and scheduling some screen free time to spend with your family. Mental health issues are becoming more and more of an issue and it has been linked to the increased isolation the tech generation feels. An inability to create strong, trusting and loving relationships has seen a separation from society and has build a barrier to true belonging that humans, as a social species, seek.

Children need to be taught how to interact over the dinner table, ways of building strong and meaningful relationships and strategies to connect and belong with their peers and most importantly, to their families. Screens offer a placebo belonging effect. They do not create genuine relationships because so many important interactions, like body language, eye contact and touch are lost in translation. Children need to be held, to see positive body language modelled and to develop appropriate eye contact use during conversations. This can’t be learnt from a screen.

As for the behaviours that are becoming more prevalent, the grades that you can’t seem to improve or the complete disengagement from class, nature could be your answer. In today’s society, we seem to over schedule our children. They wake up in the morning and watch cartoons for 30 minutes. Then they sit in their car seat for 45 minutes on the commute to school or care. At school, they sit for classes for hours at a time, with only an hour and a half of time to play and maybe a PE class if their lucky. They sit for another 45 mins on the way home from school, get change for swimming. They sit again, for 20 minutes to the pool and swim laps for an hour. From there they sit for another 20 minutes home, watch cartoons for half an hour whilst you make dinner. They sit for dinner, sit for a bath and go to bed.

Throughout the day, children don’t have enough accessed to unscheduled and undirected play. So often they are required to sit, engage and learn for hours at a time in school, even though research tells us that children can sit and engage, optimally, for half an hour at a time before they need time to get active. This is not to say that there isn’t a place for violin, swimming and footy. But children do need time of active play where they are able to play freely and without constraint.

Nature plays an important role in the physical and mental development of children. Research has shown that free play outdoors, in which children are given the freedom to play, explore, take risks and develop games, reduces stress, improves motor development and can improve behavioural and educational outcomes in children. Researchers, such as Richard Louv, state that nature is the missing link in children’s lives in the present day and that a number of childhood issues, like obesity, ADHD, and a multitude of other disorders can be improved, if not completely eliminated by spending time in undirected nature play.

Not only does outdoor play improve health outcomes, it can also lead in increases in confidence, self esteem, autonomy and independence. This may mean that the issues currently faced in the teenage years, depression, anxiety, deviancy and disengagement can be decreased. The first five years of life are the most important for setting up the adult a child will become and it’s never to early to get outdoors.

Maybe when you have a free hour this weekend, you might consider taking you child to a park, playground, wooded area or lake and allowing them the supervised freedom to play outdoors. For some children this may be a foreign concept and they might need your help to get the hang of playing outside. But once they get the hang of it, you will be astounded by the gains your child makes when they are given time to unwind under you watchful but non-controlling eye.

Happy Parenting,



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