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Outdoor activity important for children

Lethbridge Herald with Mariana Brussoni 15 December 2017

Children need to play outside.

Childhood development research shows the benefits and importance of unstructured outdoor play.

Earlier this week, Lethbridge College hosted industry leaders and community partners for the Visioning and Leading Outdoor Play in Alberta Symposium.

The one-day, invite-only symposium featured seven expert speakers as well as group discussion time to help generate ideas and bring invested stakeholders closer together.

Bora Kim, an instructor in the Early Childhood Education program at Lethbridge College, said the goal for the college is to lead the outdoor play movement across the province and country.

“We want to ensure our Canadian children are getting high-quality outdoor experiences,” she said. “That’s why we gathered all these people – policy makers, researchers, and decision-makers – in one spot to discuss the opportunities we might have for children’s outdoor play in Alberta.”

Beverlie Dietze, director of Applied Learning and Research at Okanagan College, was one of the presenters on Tuesday and has been involved with Lethbridge College for the past two years on the importance of outdoor play through the Early Childhood Education program, diploma program and the outdoor play space on campus.

“What we are really interested in is supporting Lethbridge College in becoming leaders in the outdoor play curriculum,” she said. “And what it means for early childhood educators in Alberta as well as for the children.”

Research indicates children who play outdoors are healthier in terms of academic performance as well as overall health and wellness.

For this reason, it is important to support changing views that more time spent outside is needed.

“We’re really encouraging them to open up the doors and let the children feel the wind on their face,” she said. “It is a change in curriculum and pedagogy.”

Parents who feel their children need more time to prepare for school (by studying in traditional methods) should be aware of the holistic learning experience being outside provides for their children, according to Dietze. And fears that children playing outside in natural environments might hurt themselves can rob children of opportunities to learn critical reasoning and thinking skills.

“We need to support families in understanding that when children are outdoors and have the experiences of taking risk, they embrace the problem solving and critical thinking skills that then support them in making the right decisions,” she said.

“We’ve found kids are getting play more and more restricted,” said Mariana Brussoni, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia in the Faculty of Medicine who presented on the impact of risk in play and the harm caused by the restrictions which can be placed on children by parents.

“What we’re learning more about is the negative impacts of those restrictions on their mental health, development and well-being.”

Parents who have their fears re-enforced through media and social media may be overly fearful of kidnapping, children being hit by cars, and social services intervening in trivial matters.

The likelihood of a child being kidnapped by a stranger is about one in 14 million, Brussoni said.

These odds put the event on par with winning Lotto 6-49.

“Parents are putting their kids in cars in an effort to keep them safe,” she said. “Not realizing that kids in cars is a leading cause of death. By trying to do that, they are increasing the risk of serious injury.”

“But they are also worried that other parents are going to judge them,” she added. “So it is really challenging.”

At Lethbridge College some recom-mendations about outdoor play made by the experts at the symposium are being integrated into the campus daycare.

Working with the Hands-On Early Learning Centre, the college is removing plastic toys from the outdoor play area, while replacing them with tactile loose parts, such as pieces of wood and pipe, to enrich children’s learning opportunities and promote children’s health and well-being.