Knowing what is best for your child is far more difficult sometimes than you might have expected, particularly when it comes to their social habits. In this day and age, there are fun-filled electronic devices at every turn, not to mention hundreds of online learning resources. Children play in many different ways. It is no surprise that they often gravitate toward the past of least resistance, but is it helping or hurting them? Are children playing inside too much?
Health and Air Quality for Children Playing Inside
One of the reasons parents have shifted towards indoor play is airborne contaminants. Many parents feel that exposing their children to the germs of the outdoors will cause illness. Here in Vancouver, we had a smog warning one summer. We were told to avoid being outside until the air quality improved. Oddly enough, according to a study cited by Psychology Today, there are plenty of contaminant risks right in your very own home.
In fact, indoor air is more likely to cause asthma in children than outdoor air is. The condensed area of an indoor space keeps germs within a small radius of your child and will likely be brought in via your cooling and heating systems.
There is also the issue of physical fitness to contend with. There are plenty of parents who insist that games such as Wii Fit offers the same levels of physical fitness that a child playing outdoors would receive. While this is technically true, they don’t offer the added advantages that outdoor play offers in conjunction with physical activity.
While playing on a piece of outdoor play equipment might seem as though it were working the same parts of the body as a fitness game, it truly does so much more. While a child plays a fitness game, they are absolutely working staying healthy. What they aren’t doing is cognitively deciding where to go and what to do with their bodies. They are simply following a series of commands and prompts that show them what to do.
With outdoor exercise and play, there is a connection to nature and imagination that is lacking in electronic alternatives. Regular outdoor activity helps promote their physical excellence and allows your child to set healthy life patterns early on. One of my friends is a Kindergarten teacher and commented to me once that she can tell easily which parents take their kids to the park regularly. Kids learn important physical skills just by playing at the playground.
Despite common myths about outdoor play and sickness, outdoor recreation is an essential component of cognitive development in early childhood. While the world of electronic education and recreation is vast and ever expanding, there is no comprehensive replacement for playing outside. This is not to say that there aren’t video and computer games that are cognitively beneficial; simply, these methods of play cannot replace imaginative outdoor play.
A study completed by University of Virginia considers outdoor play critical to early childhood development. It concludes that playing ‘pretend’ outdoors works multiple parts of the brain while simultaneously refining motor and social skills. Furthermore, playing outside engages a child’s imagination in ways that indoor play and electronic play sometimes do not. In keeping with this line of research, preschools have built entire curricula around imagination play.
For those of us who live in large cities, the choice for outdoor play may not be so simple if there are safety factors to consider. There are some places that simply are not safe for children to play. This is where we parents take the lead.
There are a lot of solutions to giving children outdoor time while also keeping them safe. Playing outside with them is a tremendous option. Setting up specific play dates or talking to the other parents in your neighborhood about all of the kids playing together are good ways to get started.
It may also be possible for your child to walk or ride their bike to school with their friends to add a level of outdoor physical activity to their day. Clubs, teams and even weekend trips to the park are all ways to keep your child active without having to jeopardize their safety by allowing them to endlessly play outside.
Outdoor Play vs. Indoor Play: Which is Better?
Children’s recreation is a human right and, whether indoors or outdoors, there is no one way for children to exercise this right. For children playing inside, there are endless cognitive training games available, such as the Rubik Cube puzzle or its predecessor, the Soma Cube puzzle. These types of indoor puzzles play an important role in cognitive development, however, they are best used to help children learn how to absorb information.
Since outdoor play requires children to find and create every element of their play, it fosters in children a unique kind of critical thinking. Therefore, despite outdoor play being considered a thing of the past, there remains plenty of reasons for children to play outside. Ultimately, balance is the key.
What do you think? Are children playing inside too much? Do you encourage your kids to get outside to play or go to the playground with them regularly?
Riya is the mother of a young boy. She has experience in abundance with different musical instruments. This time, she writes for SiamMandalay, the Thai wood puzzles and handicrafts manufacturer and distributor.