Happy and healthy outdoors

Saturday 12 February 2011

Sustrans is a charity that encourages people to travel by foot, bike or public transport more often.  Recently, they’ve produced a couple of very thought-provoking articles about children’s experiences of their journey to school (‘A child’s eye view of school travel’) and outdoor play (‘Free range kids’).  Here’s an extract from ‘Free range kids’…

90% of us adults regularly played outside in our street as kids, compared to fewer than one in three UK children today.  As 73% of them prefer outdoor activities, the charity Sustrans wondered why they aren’t getting out more, benefiting from the sunlight and fresh air…and splashing around in the mud and rain. After all, it’s their preferred way to have fun (whilst burning calories and getting their daily dose of activity).

Emma Kenny is a well-known expert in child psychology, and a parent too. She gives us her thoughts on why these things are so vital for growing children, and what we as adults can do to help.

What are the benefits of outdoor play?

Children who are allowed to explore their personal worlds are bound to feel that, on the whole, life is a playground where adventures are to be had. This means they’re more likely to approach new challenges with confidence, forge new peer relationships more easily, will be less likely to suffer obesity and issues with isolation and feel that they are unique and trusted individuals within their own worlds. Physiologically, the benefits of spending a couple of hours in daylight are proven: the white light we experience means lower levels of stress and healthier mental states and, of course, fresh air is always a healthy addition to our lives.

What might happen if kids don’t have their freedom?

If you cage any animal, it will begin to demonstrate a fear of leaving its environment in spite of this appearing unnatural. We are creatures of habit and we adjust our beliefs to reflect this. If we are inside and isolated much of the time, we will start to fear that which is outside and new. Kids need to have a sense of self within their environment. We should encourage them to do this.

Read more of this and other articles in Sustrans magazine: The Hub, Spring 2011 edition.