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Lessons Kids Learn from Unstructured Play

October 15, 2015 by Normand Richard, Certified Exercise Physiologist

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One summer when I was young, I thought it was brilliant to run backwards as fast as possible. Not taking into account that our lawn wasn’t 100 per cent level, I tripped and sprained my forearm. Lessons learned: running backwards is slower than running forwards, it should be done on level ground, hitting the ground hard can hurt, but rolling with the impact is safer than an outreached hand. And, I learned that I can heal.

Parents want the best for their children; they aim for positive parenting, healthy eating, and safety. When it comes to physical activity, over-supervising children’s play can limit the amount of time kids are active which can slow their ability to develop skills and learn.

Current research shows that kids who are active on their own outdoors (vs. being active indoors) move more and sit less, have better motor skills (the ability to carry out basic body movements), and are three times more likely to meet the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for Children.

Once a year, ParticipACTION releases a report on the status of physical activity levels in Canada’s children and youth. This year’s key message is: kids need unsupervised outdoor play! The full report is freely available, but if you’re time-crunched the highlight report is a quick read.

This report recommends outdoor free play to be most beneficial when it’s exciting, challenging, and unsupervised. Parents might worry about their kids getting injured. But kids are quite good at determining their own risk boundaries. Yes, a scraped knee will most likely happen at some point and it does hurt, but the majority of injuries that happen during play are minor and can be a great learning experience for the future.

The take home message is that playing outdoors improves physical, mental, social, and environmental health for children, and it’s fun! If cold weather is an obstacle in getting your family playing outside, use these tips to stay moving during winter. Like the report card says, “get out of their way and let them play; kick them out..side!”


Related blogs

Benefits of the Natural Playground
Outdoor Play

Recommended resources

ParticipACTION: Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth
Macleans: Playing, with fire: How much risk should we expose our kids to?

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