15 Oct 2020

The importance of children playing outside

From Nine To Noon, 11:26 am on 15 October 2020

Advocate of outdoor nature education Wendy Pirie says there are many developmental benefits for children running around outside and exploring their environment.

She is the founder of an early learning centre in Taradale, Hawkes Bay, where children have 2 acres of natural play space.

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Photo: Wendy Pirie

The play space called, The Den, rests on key developmental pillars, she tells Kathryn Ryan.

“Those four things are well-being, belonging, discovery and education, movement and nature.”

Children learn through doing, she says, but the modern world constrains them.

“It’s a sequential journey that children go through without us being aware, but what we are seeing more and more for different reasons is that children are in positions that they cannot naturally get themselves in or out of.

“There’s health and safety so we’re in car seats and different things like that and our bodies aren’t able to be in those positions independently.”

Children would once have played outdoors for four hours a day, she says, which engages all the senses. Not just the five common senses but also things like balance.

“For example, the most advanced form of balance is the ability to be still.

“Being still is an advanced developmental journey so how we develop that is through our vestibular system which is taking our body out from the upright position to is things like rolling, running around and hanging upside down which we used to see all the time which was how young children were playing.”

Children today are more and more in the upright position, she says.

Independent or free skipping is a sign a child is developing well, she says.

“If I’m working alongside children that always makes my heart sing when I see a child that’s skipping along and singing to themselves.

“That gives me an indication is that they are physically organised, they have gone through a developmental journey.

“Once children are able to independently sing and skip at the same time, they are able to access the executive functioning part of their brain, because the movement part of their brain is automated they are able to so movement without thinking about it.”

“What an independent skipping singing child suggests to me is that they have crossed their mid line … which is how dominance emerges, left or right handed, that is a developmental journey

Before they can skip independently they need to develop foundational skills, she says, from traditional play such as rolling, spinning and being upside down.

“That leads to a sequential journey of stand on one foot, jump with two feet together being able to hop on one foot and putting it all together and being able to skip.”

Her top tip for parents wishing to encourage a love of play and movement in a child is to engage their inner child.

“For young children music is a wonderful medium, breaking out into song and bringing back your inner child is a wonderful place to start.

“Find your inner child and just be present and have the time and space together.”