The Benefits of Outdoor Play

Charlotte JenkinsBeacon Community Services, Beacon Family Services, Family Relationships

The mayor of the Sardinian town of Mamoiada banned homework during the school holidays (The Guardian 2021), encouraging families to go for walks and watch the sunrise instead.  He felt children would benefit more by exploring the world around them.   Whilst homework is unlikely to be banned in England in the near future, we agree spending playful time connecting with your child, indoors or outside, brings great benefits to your child’s self-esteem and emotional well-being.

Why Play?

One of the real plusses of the school holidays can be the chance to spend time out and about outdoors with no school timetable to tell you it’s time to move onto the next activity.  We’ve written before about outdoor play which has huge health benefits, both physical and psychological (Office for National Statistics 2019).

Making time outside a playful experience

There are a huge range of games which are marketed for the outdoors such as large versions of indoor games such as dominoes and Tic-Tac or Noughts and Crosses.  Playful activities with less of a competitive focus can offer a fun way for parents and children to connect and strengthen their relationships, such as co-building an outdoor den or completing a Treasure Hunt together;

Search for 5 green items,

Find 4 items that smell,

Spot 3 oval or round shaped objects,

Name 2 living items seen outdoors

Each identify 1 favourite outdoor object.

These treasure seeking activities  create opportunities for co-operation, learning about your child’s preferences and celebrating their contributions and discoveries.

Go colour crazy! Using coloured chalks on a pavement or patio to co-create an image with your child, drawing round each other’s feet and hands, chalking doodles and patterns, leaving messages for each other can all create a relaxed, fun and playful time together.   Noticing and supporting your child’s choices and celebrating the ways they create and leave their mark on the world in a semi-permanent way, can be a positive and playful way for your child to feel seen and valued.

What if my child doesn’t want to be outside?

Many parents worry about the amount of time their child spend engrossed in an online game or TV reruns during their leisure time.  It is worth considering what function that activity has for your child, is it a way of connecting with peers or a familiar activity which has a soothing effect due to the known elements and lack of surprise?

As families come to the end of the Summer holidays, parents may notice a rise in the amount of familiar, known activities their child may opt for.   Combining known activities within less familiar activities can widen a child’s experiences.

Building a den offers a range of opportunities for fun problem solving, creativity, working together and ways for your child to create a sense of safety within a time of imminent change.  Once the den is built, add a couple of throws or blankets, cushions and your child can relax and watch their favourite film or TV programme and better still, add a snack which can be eaten in situ.

Add a string of fairy lights or torches and as the daytime fades the space transforms into an exciting, twinkly place to be!  The den can become a venue for sleepovers, conversations, thinking time, a quiet space….whatever it needs to be.    The particularly great element of den making is that it can take place indoors or outside, so it can be an activity for a child who is hibernating inside or one who is happy in the outdoors and does not need to be cancelled due to the British weather!

If you are short of ideas of how to make the most of the playful possibilities within the remaining days of the Summer holidays, check out Lumin&Us our free play based App which can be downloaded on the App Store or Google Play.

Peppy Hills is a qualified play therapist and Filial Play Coach who leads Project Salam at Beacon Family Services.