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Why Don't Your Children Play Outside?

By Yvette Vignando - 4th September 2012

Do you find it difficult to get your children to go outside and play? Are they reluctant, or has your lifestyle simply led to them spending more time indoors? And what do you think is causing this?

Last week school principals from public, Catholic and independent schools supported the release of "active" diaries by Nature Play WA urging half an hour of outdoor play, every day, for primary school-aged children. And Professor Jo Salmon from Deakin University was referenced in The West newspaper as commenting that children were being given more homework at a younger age than 20 years ago: “I would hate to see kids having to spend all day at school, where they are already sitting way too long and then getting them home and having them sit down for more homework…I just don't think it's necessary. In daylight hours they should be outside playing." Is that what's keeping children inside do you think? Homework load? I definitely think this is one part of it – and to add to that concern, the research we’ve looked at on this site suggests that homework often doesn't add much to our younger children’s education. http://www.happychild.com.au/articles/what-is-the-value-of-homework-rese... But I think there are other factors that reduce outdoor play by our children.

I acknowledge that the lure of computers and electronic games are part of the reason our children spend more time indoors after school. It’s easy to let children play on these devices, knowing that they're occupied, knowing exactly where they are, and knowing we’ll have an hour of undisturbed time to do something else. I’ve definitely resorted to this sometimes. But I think there’s more to this issue – television was around when I grew up, and we still played outside, a lot. Television was pretty enticing but so was playing with the children in our neighbourhood.

What do you think has really changed? Is it this generation of parents (you and I) that have changed our approach? Is it because in many households both parents are working and it feels safer to simply keep our children inside until we’re home from work? Are we, as Lenore Skenazy (Free Range Kids advocate in NYC) suggests, a generation of parents who have lost their confidence: “... lost confidence in everything: Their neighbourhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world. As a result, they batten down the hatches.”

There is a brilliant article in The Independent worth reading called “Free-range fun: Would you let your children play in the street?” http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/fre... I recommend the read, including the reference to how children are treated differently in other countries, in Denmark for example. The author Lucy McDonald writes:

“Clearly, it (play in the street) has to be well-managed and I am lucky to have a fabulous street. One of summer's high points was sitting on my front wall with three neighbours, none of whom have young children, drinking white wine in the early evening sunshine as my two made themselves giddy running up and down. Street play is easy and on your doorstep. The only effort involved is opening your front door and shooing your children out. I do supervise, either sitting on the front wall or in the bay window with half an eye on my daughters, half an eye on a book.”

So, what about you, how difficult is it for you to shoo your children out of the house to play outside, even on weekends? What holds you back, if anything? Is it in fact a lack of confidence? When I shared the 'play outside before homework' article on Twitter last week, I read one good suggestion for a start – serve your children afternoon tea outside. Now, over to you …

(P.S. apologies for clumsy hyperlkinking - website is not cooperating today!)

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