Unstructured outdoor play is vital for the positive mental and physical well-being of your child. Studies show that South Australian children spend an average of 4.5 hours a day in front of a screen, half an hour more than the national average. The average Australian child spends less time outdoors than a maximum security prisoner. Children should be taking supervised, acceptable risks outdoors to fight the sedentary lifestyle and feel more confident to play with their friends outside.
Playing outdoors can provide many benefits for your child, and can incorporate many of the sensory integration principles that we use at OTFC. Playing outdoors helps to improve self-confidence, reduce stress, develop imagination, improve physical health, reduce challenging behaviours and improve awareness/care for the environment.
10 Things your kids should do before they turn 12:
- Go Barefoot: This provides intense tactile (touch) input to the feet – strengthens the skin on their feet, supports tactile sensory processing (including reducing touch sensitivities), improves balance and spatial awareness.
- Climb a Tree: Develops upper body strength, shoulder stability, postural control/core strength, motor planning and provides heavy work to support regulation.
- Crawling or Walking over Fallen Logs: Develops balance, upper body strength, postural control and body awareness.
- Mud/Sand Play: Encourage sensory exploration to reduce touch sensitivities, improve fine motor skills and develop body awareness. Your child may also find this calming if they are regulated by tactile input.
- Listen to Birds and Animals: Try to listen for different birds and point in the direction the sound came from, to improve auditory (listening) processing skills.
- Body Surfing at the Beach: Develop balance, body awareness and provide strong feedback to regulate their nervous systems.
- Rolling Down a Big Hill: Develop postural reactions and body/spatial awareness, help manage movement input and improve ability to ‘cross the midline’.
- Collect Fallen Items: Collect sticks, rocks, shells, leaves, flowers, feathers! These can be used to make something creative or even a mud pie or sand castle. This can improve tactile sensory processing, fine motor dexterity, creativity and visual attention.
- Explore Nature Blindfolded: Blindfold your child and guide them with your hand to touch and smell what is in the environment (feel tree bark, smell flowers) – get them to guess what the object is. This can support body/spatial awareness, touch perception and olfactory (smell) processing. It can also help to foster a trusting relationship with parents and carers.
- Feel Calmed by Nature: Lie on your back and watch the clouds go by, go for a hike at your local reserve, admire the view from the top of a big hill, watch a sunrise/sunset, float a leaf down a river, listen to a storm, toast marshmallows by a campfire, make a wish on a dandelion flower or have story time outside on a rug.
Feels a bit daunting?
Just start with playing outside with your child. Help your child by modelling play ideas so they are able develop their ability to play more independently over time. When they are playing more independently, you can step back and observe – only join in when needed to engage or extend their play.
When your child is not used to playing outside, it will take time to develop ideas and fully engage in the activity – so aim to be outdoors for at least 30 minutes at a time.
Reference: Nature Play SA, The Advertiser, Monday 29 September 2014