Kids need outdoor play, not just sports, say experts

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As children gear up to participate in sports leagues and camps this summer, experts say it’s important to ensure time is also devoted for youngsters to enjoy less structured outdoor, active play.

Mark Tremblay, chief scientific officer of Active Healthy Kids Canada, has previously described active play as the “overlooked sibling” of the physical activity equation.

“We need to let (children) go play in the sandpit and run through the stream and get their shoes dirty and get grass stains on their knees,” he said in an interview at the recent Global Summit on the Physical Activity of Children in Toronto.

“The beauty of that sort of freedom is there’s limitless opportunity. It’s only at the limits of the mind to create … what can you do with yourself, what can you do chasing a frog. And every day, it can be a new adventure. It doesn’t cost anything.”

William Pickett, head of the department of community health and epidemiology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said there are obvious fitness benefits to active play and physical activity. But Pickett said it can offer a boost in other ways, such as “subtle benefits” to emotional health, like feeling a connection to nature.

“I think (the concept of) allowing our kids room to move needs to be expanded,” said Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.

“When we look across at other countries, those that are excelling have done that. It’s either inherent in the way they live, or they’ve been able to allow… the interaction with nature and the outdoors to just occur organically — whereas it’s anything but organic in our society.

“I think we need that better balance of active transportation, active play, organized sport, incidental movement — all of those pieces regularly, inherent, pervasive throughout the day,” he added.

Yet, while many of Canada’s kids have access to parks and playgrounds and take part in organized sports, the physical activity levels of the country’s youngsters lagged near the back of the pack among 15 countries, according to a recent report.

The Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth saw Canada assigned a D minus for overall physical activity levels with only seven per cent of five- to 11-year-olds and four per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds meeting recommended guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. What’s more, Canadian kids earned a failing grade due to hours spent being idle, expending little movement or energy.

No grade was available on the report card in the category of active play due to limited research in the area and the lack of an evidence-based benchmark. However, parents of kids aged five to 11 reported that the youngsters only get 4.1 hours of physical activity a week while taking part in unorganized physical activities outside of school — whether alone or with a friend.

Deb Lowther, who writes about fitness and nutrition on her website Raising Healthy Kids, works diligently to model an active lifestyle for her three daughters: 12-year-old Julia, 10-year-old Brooke and eight-year-old Amy.

The Burlington, Ont., resident is an avid runner, and both she and her husband, Stuart, participated in a half Ironman triathlon last year. Whether they’re hiking, skiing or taking a dip in the backyard pool, being active is a pivotal part of family life for both parents and kids.

Still, the girls are also afforded the chance to take part in less structured play. Lowther said they keep the garage stocked with hula hoops, skipping ropes, basketballs, bikes and other equipment to help keep the kids moving.

“There’s a whole bin of stuff there to take out and have fun,” Lowther said.

“If you’re a parent that’s not that active, it’s still super easy to get your kids active doing stuff. … One of the issues is giving kids the time.”

Source; ctv news

Kids who play outdoors are more spiritual and creative: study


Turn off the TV, hide the game consoles and send your kids to play in the great outdoors if you want to raise more thoughtful, fulfilled and spiritual children, suggest the findings of a small study.
Children who spend significant amounts of time playing outside were found to have a stronger sense of purpose, peacefulness and spiritual connection to the earth.

For their study, published in the Journal of the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, researchers from Michigan State University conducted in-depth interviews, drawings, diaries, observation and conversation with parents to measure the children’s esthetic values and sensibilities.

Children who spent five to 10 hours a week playing outside were found to demonstrate strong imaginations, creativity, and curiosity, as well as a deep appreciation for nature’s beauty, whether it be lush green bushes, water patterns or a fascination with bees’ nests, researchers noted.

The 10 children, ages seven and eight, reported feelings of peacefulness and wonderment at natural phenomena like storms, and said they felt happy.
They also expressed a sense of belonging in the world and an acute need to protect the earth.

Though small in scale, the findings underscore the importance of free play for children and its lasting impact: the parents of children who expressed the highest affinity toward nature likewise reported spending significant amounts of time playing outdoors in their childhood.

More than video game graphics and cartoons, researchers theorize that nature’s multisensory diversity — sights, sounds and colors — can help children feel more alive and build self-confidence.

Another study published out of Finland, meanwhile, found gender differences in the way school-aged boys and girls viewed nature: While girls said they appreciated the beauty of flowers and plants, more than 30 percent of boys in the study said they could live without vegetation.

Source: ctv news

Lack of outdoor play said to hurt children’s development

Teachers, parents and health officials in southern Ontario say kids today simply don’t know how to play outside.

“We’re not talking about structured play. We’re talking about free unstructured play out of doors,” said Sharon Sheshlia, a health and physical education consultant for the Greater Essex County District School Board. “When I was growing up and when I was raising my own children it was ‘go outside and play. Here are your boundaries … and don’t come in until I call you or the street lights come on.’

“So, the kids developed imagination, played with kids in the neighbourhood and developed problem solving skills. They did that on their own and it wasn’t taught.”

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Sheshlia said modern neighbourhoods don’t encourage outdoor play.

“In some suburban areas, you’re lucky if you have a sidewalk,” she said. “You don’t see kids outside anymore. It’s a desert. Every year, there’s less and less.”

The Ontario Ministry of Education has provided school boards additional funding for “outdoor education” for the past two years.

This funding goes to all publicly funded school boards. It is to be used to provide students with outdoor education experiences and learning such as camping, hiking, biking, rope climbing courses and visits to nature centres

The focus is on structured outdoor learning activities led by adults. Sheshlia said children lack the ability to play freely and unstructured.

The Ontario Ministry of Health recommends children between the ages of one and five get 60 minutes of unstructured play every day.

“Physical activity is very important for the healthy development of your child during the first six years of life. It is even more important in the first three years of life when brain development is accelerated,” the ministry says on its website. “As children get older, physical activity plays a key role in their ability to learn and it improves cognitive function, concentration, self-esteem, social skills and mood.”

Public schools in Windsor-Essex are phasing out traditional playgrounds, with their slides and monkey bars. They will be replaced with “naturalized playgrounds” which include large hills, walking paths and grass mazes.

The City of Windsor, meanwhile, had planned on selling 17 parks it deemed “surplus.” The plan was put on hold.

Although, the city is still looking to sell South Tilston Park in west Windsor and Long Park in the east end.

“Form follows function. If you design it, they will come,” Sheshlia said.

Sheshlia said parents today have a perception that the world is no longer safe.

“There’s a fear factor with parents. Even though the statistics don’t bear out that things are any worse or bad,” she said. “Things are getting better as far as crime statistics go.”

Technology partly blamed

Sheshlia said technology also deters kids from playing outside.

“The internet is a time waster. It sucks kids in,” she said.
Joey Tremblay, 10, spends an average of two hours each day playing video games at his Windsor, Ont., home.

“I like playing video games more than outside because you get to do whatever you want,” Tremblay said.

His dad, Michael Tremblay said the time spent inside and playing video games is affecting his son’s behaviour.

Michael Tremblay said it affects his son’s ability to socialize and share. He would like to see his son go outside and play a game of tag.

Sheshlia said kids who don’t play outside don’t learn to socialize, share or problem solve.

“Their problem-solving and decision making skills aren’t being developed as much. They may not have their negotiating skills developed to their full extent,” she said.

According to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, 90 per cent of Canadian children are gaming and six out of 10 households have a gaming console.

Joey Tremblay said he “sometimes” puts up a fight when he’s asked to go outside and play and that he “would cry” if his dad took video games away.

“There’s been days where it’s taken me two hours to get him out the door to play with his friends,” Michael Tremblay said.

Michael Tremblay is a gamer, too.

“I’m being a bit hypocritical. So what I try to do is, do my gaming when he’s in bed so it doesn’t look like dad’s gaming 24/7,” he said.

Technology’s reach stretches all the way down to newborns today.

Source: cbc news