Outdoor Play is becoming recognised and revered for the role it plays in a child’s health and happiness. We constantly hear of the dangers of the sedentary lifestyle that children face today. Computer screens, stranger danger, too much traffic, increased pressure to achieve top marks at school. These are the most frequent excuses for keeping children indoors instead of on those swing sets, but at what cost?
At Pentagon Play, we’re tasked with improving the lives of children through outdoor play and learning. We create outdoor learning environments for schools that encourage cross curricular activities and develop children through the 7 areas of learning from the age of 3 to the age of 11.
It’s in a child’s nature to be active, take risks, be curious about nature and of course, get messy. On that basis, we create engaging products that facilitate children’s natural urges when outdoors to help make learning fun.
For example, we offer challenging climbing frames for physical development, and messy play products such as a Mud Kitchen for learning through muddy interactive play.
When designing products, we think back to when we were children and what inspired us when outdoors – it really helps when thinking of new ideas. Compared to when we were young, school playgrounds are now magnificent outdoor learning environments brimming with exciting resources for children to self-select from.
There’s several reasons why it matters to you more than ever.
It’s now Ofsted assessed
Outdoor learning is one of the key areas of inspection from Ofsted and is now seen as one of the most important elements to a child’s development at school.
There has even been a phrase coined for it: “Nature Deficit Disorder”. It may not be a medical term, but it’s a good description of the human cost of alienation from the natural world, a symptom of current lifestyle.
We regularly create new bespoke products for schools because teachers are always looking for exciting ways to improve a child’s experience when learning. Moreover, we conduct ‘School Council Meetings’ with children to hear their views on products and if there is anything new that they would like to see.
It’s essential to overcome these barriers to get children playing outside which means braving the weather and even potentially even participating in play with them!
Outdoor activities are one of the best ways to bond with children and bring endless benefits to their development. Take any activity outdoors and it becomes an adventure, more fun and memorable. If Dads can join in, even better!
Playing outside regularly, leads to improvements in a child’s mental health, wellbeing and confidence. It can also relieve stress by reducing cortisol, a “stress hormone”, in the brain. Moreover, sensible exposure to sunlight allows the body to produce Vitamin D, which releases serotonin into the brain and boosts mood.
Swing set learning means fewer rules
When playing outdoors, there are fewer rules. Having freedom to run, to just “be kids”, is vital. It sets their imaginations free and encourages them to create their own challenges. There is always one tree that looks extra fun to climb, a new hiding place to find or a running record to beat! Children learn how and when to take risks outdoors. They fall and pick themselves up while learning from their mistakes.
A lot of our work with schools is trying to get the feeling of one giant classroom that children can easily go between, treating the outdoors as the same as a traditional classroom indoors.
An example of how we achieve this would be to attach a timber canopy to the school building outside of a classroom which creates free flow access from inside to outside. When outside, children then have access to our innovative products that develop their understanding of mathematics, literacy, numeracy and science. When not surrounded by walls, children feel less inhibited and naturally express themselves more freely
Outdoor play is crucial in the battle against childhood obesity. It’s a problem in the UK right now, and physical exercise is one of the few guaranteed ways of keeping fit and maintaining a healthy weight.
Running, climbing, cycling, kicking a ball, whatever they choose it doesn’t matter, it’s all good for burning calories and overall physical development. This doesn’t just apply to children. Dads who enjoy keeping fit have the perfect excuse to join in! Dads have a big influence over how active their children are, and young children especially want to copy their Dad.
How dads can get involved
1. Be an active role model. Try new outdoor activities together and children will develop positive attitudes towards exercise and play. Notice and encourage them, because if they know Dad is interested in what they are doing, they are more likely to keep it up. Watch them when they are playing outside, offer praise, ask questions, boost their confidence and show them that what they do matters.
2. Children want to have fun, and Dads can provide it in abundance with a lifetime of play skills to pass on! Most of us learned from our Dads on how to fly a kite, throw a frisbee and kick a ball. Dads can enjoy the pleasure of being unpredictable. Rough and tumble and roll around the garden! Children need this because they naturally learn from their Dads on how to do things safely and respectfully.
3. Children can also learn how to exert themselves and be less timid, exercise self-control, release energy, frustration or excitement and learn how to reign it back after releasing it from their systems. This playtime with Dad builds social intelligence and boosts self-esteem.
4. Use outdoor playtime to talk about “stuff”. It’s much easier for children and even Dads to do this in a relaxed way while they are on the move because the atmosphere is not too intense or pressured – the mind is naturally distracted by the outdoor activities you both are participating in. It’s much more productive than a sit-down face to face which makes some children shut down and unsure of what to say because they think they must give the “right” answers!
Engaging outdoors together ultimately brings you closer in your relationship as well as helping your children to be happy and sure in themselves. Give it all a go, and be part of the DaddiLife #PlayMoreMonth
Sam Flatman is an outdoor learning specialist and an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play. Sam has been designing outdoor school play equipment for the past 12 years and has a passion for outdoor education. He believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which should be integrated into the school curriculum at every opportunity.