When I was younger, I enjoyed being in school, but being out with my friends exploring was WAY more fun. There, I definitely learned that cooperating with friends was important, and our imaginations went wild. These are skills that I don’t think can be taught. Baby animals play, and that is nature’s way of learning how to get on with our environment. These days, increased schooling, safety fears and the fascination with screens have resulted in a massive play deficit, and it is having a very negative effect on our children.
Without play, our kids cannot learn the basics of how to express themselves. Voicing his concerns to the Independent, bio-psychologist, Peter Gray, says it is time to give childhood back to children. He said we should learn from mistakes other countries have made;
“Educators in East Asian nations have increasingly been acknowledging the massive failure of their educational systems. A common Chinese term used to refer to the products of their schools is gaofen dineng, which essentially means good at tests but bad at everything else. Because students spend nearly all of their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative, discover or pursue their own passions, or develop physical and social skills. Moreover, as revealed by a recent large-scale survey conducted by British and Chinese researchers, Chinese schoolchildren suffer from extraordinarily high levels of anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic stress disorders, which appear to be linked to academic pressures and lack of play.”
2. Social Interaction
Some believe that the rise in narcissistic behaviour in young children could be as a result of very controlled play environments. In his book, Children at Play, Howard Chudacoff says;
“Children can’t learn these social skills and values in school, because school is an authoritarian, not a democratic setting. School fosters competition, not co-operation; and children there are not free to quit when others fail to respect their needs and wishes.”
3. Children learn better through experience
Sitting in a classroom can sometimes produce fidgety children with short attention spans. All children will have to enter an education system eventually, and that comes with its own set of skills. However, children fare much better when they ALSO have some good outdoor, hands-on experiences. We spoke Liz Murphy, a teacher at a Limerick pre-school Free-Range Kids, where subjects include apple-picking and growing carrots;
“I suppose from when I was growing up it was all outdoors and learning from our environment – we have lost sight of that over the last few years. It seems that kids just don’t experience good old-fashioned fun outdoors anymore because technology has taken over to a point. From a child’s development point of view, I think parents are now starting to realise that being outdoors exploring, and doing all the things THEY did as a child is the way forward. We find that children learn better and they socially interact better in this way.”
4. It sets children up for life
Pediatric occupational therapist, Angela Hanscom, has researched this drop in play amongst primary age students. She told The Washington Post that this is a very critical time in a child’s development;
“If children are not given enough natural movement and play experiences, they start their academic careers with a disadvantage. They are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilise poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions. We are consistently seeing sensory, motor, and cognitive issues pop up more and more in later childhood, partly because of inadequate opportunities to move and play at an early age.”
5. Because playing is FUN for everyone
I think there is a danger that academic life is becoming too serious when it is pushed on children too early. There is nothing quite like a good game of chasing or hide and seek with your child. I admit since I have looked into this topic I realise I could be letting my children do more independent outdoor play. Obviously, they need supervision, but sometimes they need to just run about and let their imaginations run riot. I have high ambitions for my children’s education, but I am now more aware of the need to extend it outside the classroom too!
Do you feel you let your kids play enough? Have a look at our 6 really easy outdoors activities to play with your kids!