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Allergies, obesity and more: outdoor play is best medicine for kids

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promotes it and so should parents across Canada, because outdoor play for kids is not only good for their independence and self-sufficiency, outdoor play has tonnes of mental, physical and social health benefits, to boot.

“When you’re outside and your parents are inside, out of sight, you’re in situations where you’re making your own decisions and taking chances —these kinds of achievements were extremely defining for me and my sense of confidence and independence as a person.”

So said Trudeau in a blog post from his pre-PM days, and the message is confirmed by numerous studies which show that kids benefit from unstructured outdoor activity. From improved academic performance to better sleep, better immunity and lower obesity rates to decreases in bullying and ADHD symptoms, research has argued that children are better off left to their own devices in the great outdoors.

Mariana Brussoni is an associate professor of Pediatrics and Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia whose lab has developed a risk reframing tool for parents and caregivers to help them promote outdoor play. Brussoni calls it a simple way to address some of the major challenges facing humanity.

“This isn’t an expensive intervention or one that parents have to force their children to do —like homework or eating their vegetables. Rather than dreading it, children report being at their happiest when doing it and they seek ways to keep at it for as long as possible,” says Brussoni in a recent article.

But Brussoni emphasizes that there’s some tough talk for parents, as well, since modern parenting comes with a slew of fears about are children’s welfare that often work against the revival of outdoor play.

Outdoor play for kids: many parents are afraid to let children become “free range”

A survey of parents in the United Kingdom found that 49 per cent of parents did not let their children play outdoors because of fears of “stranger danger,” while 31 per cent said that fear of accident or injury prevented outdoor activity.

Brussoni says that ultimately there are three key features parents should be looking to promote: time, space and freedom.

“We need to let go of our excessive fears on injuries and kidnapping and realize that the benefits of kids getting out to play far outweigh the risks,” says Brussoni.

“Helping support children’s outdoor play can be as simple as opening the front door,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. If we all do our bit, we can help bring back this crucial activity that should be part of all children’s daily lives.”

Kids are spending half the time their parents did outside

So had bad has it gotten? One study found kids today are spending half the time playing outside that their parents did. The National Trust Survey found that on average, children were playing outside for a little more than four hours per week, compared to eight hours a week for their parents at the same age.

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About The Author /

Jayson MacLean
Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.

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