Taking the 30 Day Nature Play Challenge will not only be SUPER FUN for families these school holidays, giving your kids a #Summer2Remember, but it is going to build incredibly strong and positive ‘outdoor play files’ in their brains.
What is a 'brain file'? Basically it’s all the details associated with something that we store away in our brain, the knowledge/feelings and memories we have around that activity.
Building strong positive 'outdoor play brain files' in our kids are so incredibly important if we want our children to want to go outdoors to play.
And we need our kids to want to go outside to play because it is the greatest source of healthy physical activity for them.
Building strong, positive outdoor play 'brain files' in our children will mean:
1. Our children will associate outdoor play as a great source of the 3 F's - Fun, Friends and Freedom
2. Our children will think of outdoor play as source of skill development, challenge and mastery (e.g. bike or scooter riding, climbing trees, making hide-outs or cubbies)
3. Our children will understand that their outdoor play brings a degree of choice, autonomy, and self-direction
4. Outdoor play becomes the greatest source of healthy physical activity for our children
5. It’s easier for parents and carers to ensure good quality outdoor play happens every day
1. Why we want our kids to think of outdoor play as the source of the 3 F's - Fun, Freedom and Friends:
For children above 4 or 5 years old, FUN and FRIENDS are the main drivers for play.
NO FUN OUTDOORS = NO INTEREST IN OUTDOOR PLAY.
FUN is important for the sensory way it makes children feel. It is this positive feeling of JOY that can make the activity attractive. FRIENDS are also important because humans are social creatures and children relate best to other children and are able to meet their social needs.
FREEDOM is also very important and I want to talk about it in 2 ways –
1. EXTERNAL FREEDOM: relating to the places and spaces children can access
2. INTERNAL FREEDOM: the internal mechanism that affects our motivation, enthusiasm, passion and drive (I will address the second point a little further along).
FREEDOM as a place and space -
Where children go to have FUN with FRIENDS will shape and influence the importance of places and spaces in our children’s brains. If a child plays mainly indoors with friends then this will be the main space/place in a child’s mind where FUN with FRIENDS happens. Alternatively if this happens outdoors, the same feelings will apply.
Building strong positive ‘Outdoor Play Space Importance’ in our children’s minds will ensure they value outdoor play and seek it out regularly.
2. Why our kids need to think of outdoor play as source of skill development, challenge and mastery:
Children need to be challenged and also be given the ability to challenge others while playing outdoors. They will also need the opportunity to build upon these challenges - to grow their skills as well as master them. When children are able to do this they will think of themselves in a positive manner and this will help strengthen a positive identity – eg. “I feel competent, strong, and capable, I am able to look after myself, I feel more grown-up and I’m ready to take on the next challenge”.
This type of positive 'role modelling' thinking, more often than not, requires varying degrees of ‘real-risk’ if children are going to stay interested.
3. Why our kids need to think that their outdoor play will have a degree of choice, autonomy, and self-direction:
Kids will experience high levels of passion, enthusiasm, creativity, and imaginative play when a high degree of freedom is afforded to them while playing outdoors.
Some play experts believe that if there is no degree of internal freedom in the activity, then it is not play.
INTERNAL FREEDOM while playing outdoors is fundamentally important and a foundational aspect for building meaning and value to outdoor play.
This is where children build strong and positive meaning for outdoor play in their minds.
If children have a strong degree of freedom when playing outdoors they will be self-motivated in their play, autonomous in their play, have greater buy-in with what they are doing.
When children are afforded these opportunities to have complete say over what they do outdoors, this will result in building strong, positive, and incorruptible outdoor play files in kids' minds.
As a result, kids will want to outdoor play more regularly and they will want to be in charge of what they do.
4. Why outdoor play is the greatest source of healthy physical activity for children:
The recent Heart Foundation Physical Activity Report Card shows that Australian children scored a D- for physical activity. This means over 80% of children do not meet the recommended guidelines for daily physical activity.
- 0-5 years of age 3+ hours of daily physical activity spread out across the day
- 5-12 years of age 1+ hour plus a day of physical activity spread out across the day
Australian children are sitting too much (Yu, Baxter, 2015), they need to move more, and kids get most of their movement from incidental unstructured play (or free play).
Indoor play time is mostly sedentary, reduced movement activity.
When children play outdoors, the reins are off and the level of movement can increase exponentially. Little nature players love to run free!
Outdoor play gives children the space and place to move their bodies however they want or need to.
An expanding body of scientific evidence shows outdoor unstructured play delivers significant benefits to a child’s health, cognitive, social and emotional development, and helps children develop vital life skills such as resilience and creativity. But our kids want do it because it is FUN and brings them huge amounts of joy!
5. Why outdoor play needs to be good quality play and happen daily
You may have noticed that grown-ups have not been mentioned as an important aspect of outdoor play. This is because - and this information may hurt some grown-ups - when it comes to outdoor play, our presence is not overly necessary and to be brutally honest we often get in the way of the real play potential.
The grown-up's role with outdoor play is still very important. Our role is to support the FUN, FRIENDS and FREEDOM happening while our kids play outdoors, but we are not to BE the FUN, FRIENDS or FREEDOM. There is a big difference.
Grown-up's work is behind the scenes, understanding what good quality outdoor play actually is, and creating those opportunities daily for their children.
‘Good quality’ outdoor play meets the age appropriate play needs of the child as well as ensuring the play has the space and place for children to experience FUN, FRIENDS and FREEDOM.
Without regular good quality outdoor play experiences children will not develop the necessary internal importance – i.e. positive 'brain files' - required for them to value outdoor play. As a result they may not want to participate in outdoor play activities and therefore not reap the health and wellbeing benefits of playing outdoors.
Each child’s outdoor play needs are going to be different, and as the significant grown-ups in our children’s lives, our role is be ‘Nature Play Detectives’.
As a “Nature Play Detective” we observe where our children need to be supported in developing strong value for outdoor play - do they require more risk, harder challenges, more access to friends, a higher degree of freedom?
Our role as grown-ups is to support the formation of a strong and healthy value for outdoor play in our children’s brains by ensuring our children have the time and space to make their own FUN, access FRIENDS and be FREE while they play outdoors.
This role removes the adult from the centre of our children’s ‘play-world’.
Our reward is in knowing that we are creating a childhood that will ensure our children grow up to be independent, resilient, strong and healthy.
Nature Play QLD
Do think you can make 30 days straight of outdoor play? Make the pledge and take the challenge!