We spoke with Jacky Peile, owner of Early Links OT, to help us understand why swapping screen time is vital for a child’s development and practical strategies to help achieve this swap.
What’s better than escaping the house and getting out in nature with your kiddies? Playing outdoors and in nature is more than just fun for our kids, it actually plays a crucial role in their development and children of all ages and sizes need it.
Young children will urge you to go outdoors for playtime. They want to explore nature and listen to the sounds that the world has created. They are driven to seek the sounds of the birds chirping and the wind in the trees, while they run around barefooted in the grass.
Outdoor play is an inherently therapeutic experience for young children. For instance, just listening to the birds chirping in the trees can help children orient their bodies to the space around them; walking barefoot helps to develop arches in their little feet; and climbing trees provides necessary feedback to the joints and muscles in the arms and legs to support the development of their joints and muscles, while establishing their skills in evaluating risks. Spinning in circles just for fun or hanging upside down off a tree limb, help children to establish a strong balance system.
Problems can arise in those kids who don’t get to develop their play skills in the outdoors. Some children may show issues with attention and concentration, while others find it hard to regulate their emotions or process new sensory information. They can also develop issues with creativity and social awareness.
Screentime is one of the major reasons why kids today don’t naturally seek outdoor play as much these days. Numerous studies have found links between too much screen time during childhood and significant health concerns such as delayed language development, obesity and fine motor & handwriting issues during school ages. (1 – G. Yilmaz, et al, 2014)
How Parents Can Help with a Child’s Natural Development
If you want to support your child’s development, especially in the sensory and motor development, one of the best ways to do that is by stepping back and letting them explore. Give them the chance to reach out to nature, spin in circles, and gain a greater understanding of the world. If they’re seeking this type of play and can climb rocks without your help, their bodies are ready for it and their brains need it.
Parents see the dangers in the world for children and it’s natural to want to protect children or worry about what other parents will say or do. We tell children “no, stop that…” without giving them a real reason why. This hinders the brain’s development of early risk evaluation skills and can delay the overall development in children. (2 – Bundy. A, et al., 2011)
Get Children Outside as Soon as Possible
Babies don’t need to be kept cooped up in the home. They can benefit from nature. Let them lay in the grass and learn to walk in nature. They’ll have a wider range of experiences to draw upon in their skill development than their indoor counterparts, both physically and socially.
Set Up an Ideal Play Area
You can create an ideal play area outdoors to keep your children safe while helping them develop. Find an area in a park or in your garden that has natural shade from trees. Provide them with things they can jump over and climb on and try to give them access to sand or water to help with creativity. Put out cups and jugs for playing in mud and sand to encourage their imaginary play.
Start a Veggie Patch
You will love watching your kids caring and nurturing for their plants while they dig around in dirt and play with water. Don’t forget the added bonus that they will be more likely to eat veg they grew themselves!
Try Opting for Barefoot Play as Much as Possible
It’s not always possible to do barefoot play, but this is the way nature intended for your children. In fact, barefoot play and walking at a young age will encourage the development of the arches. It creates a stronger foot, which helps to improve balance.
When shopping for shoes, look out for minimalist options. They help to allow some feeling of the ground underneath while still protecting their little feet.
Remember that your child’s health and safety during play must always be considered. Play with your child, model playfulness, and help them to evaluate/manage risk within their environment. If your child has additional medical or physical needs, please discuss ways you can engage with your child in outdoor play the next time you speak with your health professional. Alternatively, if you’re finding outdoor play to be challenging for your child, an Occupational Therapist can provide support in setting up a play space and helping your child to build the skills in play/sensory/physical/social development required for outdoor play.
An intervention to preschool children for reducing screen time: a randomized controlled trial. G. Yilmaz, et al. 2014. Child: care, health and development, 41, 3, 443–449
The sydney playground project: popping the bubblewrap – unleashing the power of play: a cluster randomized controlled trial of a primary school playground-based intervention aiming to increase children’s physical activity and social skills. Bundy. A, et al. 2011. BMC Public Health, 11:680. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-11-680
Jacky Peile, is a Sydney based Occupational Therapist. She hold positions on the CESPHN Clinical Council and is the current chair of the Southern Sydney Peadiatric OT professional development group. Jacky started Early Links in 2010, after graduating from Sydney University, with the vision to share practical strategies to “make life easier”. The team at Early Links provide clinic (Woolooware, Caringbah, Kirrawee, Hurstville, East Gardens), school sessions, and home visits across Sydney, helping families with practical strategies for challenging behaviours, learning and development, plus stress management for busy parents.
For more general information visit: www.earlylinks.com.au