As a result of the COVID pandemic in Canada, many families have suffered loss of income, an inability to pay for childcare, the need for home schooling and more. New research shows that it is important however, to get kids outside this summer.

“Increasing opportunities for outdoor play is within everyone’s reach,” says Lawson Foundation President & CEO Marcel Lauzière. “Policy makers and the early learning and child care sector have the tools to increase children’s opportunities for outdoor play now and in the future. It’s critical that we get it right for this generation of young children who may well spend much of their critical early childhood period influenced by COVID-19.”

According to the Lawson Foundation, promoting and facilitating more opportunities for kids to play outside will have significant and immediate positive impacts for both public health COVID-19 control measures and critical child development and learning. Early experiences influence child development and have impacts across the lifespan.

Children’s daily lives have been disrupted by COVID-19 with some children suffering hardships. Outdoor play supports healthy child development in myriad ways, according the research by the Lawson Foundation and several researchers as outlined in this study you can find here.

Benefits of outdoor play

  • Children move more and sit less outdoors, leading to better overall physical health.
  • Children develop social skills and self-regulation through outdoor experiences, play, and negotiating with others.
  • When playing outdoors, children engage with risk and develop risk management skills that support self-efficacy and resilience over time.
  • Being outdoors in nature supports mental health and increases children’s happiness and sense of joy.
  • The documented decline in children’s outdoor play, due to increased use of technology, societal risk aversion, and the overscheduling of organized activities for children, threatens healthy child development.

In Canada, our Euro-Western influenced worldviews often focus on the concept of outdoor play, while Indigenous (First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) worldviews embrace land as teacher, nurturing respectful, reciprocal, and responsible relationships with nature and all living things. This means more time in nature, running in the grass, exploring streams and outdoor environments in new ways, which can enrich a child’s development. children holistically develop their body, mind, heart, and spirit as they experience and develop relationships with the outdoors. Ways of doing, knowing, seeing, and being follow natural rhythms, seasons, and ecosystems. Risk is embedded in real-life experiences. It’s a lesson those of us who live in major urban centres can learn from for the benefit of our children

While in major cities, we tend to think that in order to play outside, children need structure and places like playgrounds with climbing equipment, slides and swings. But this isn’t really the case. Children are more likely to explore a wilder outdoors where they turn sticks and brush into tools and homes and all kinds of magical inventions. Playing in groups they develop story lines and ideas, shape roles that mirror their home and social environments to build comprehension of the world around them. In this way, they learn in a natural way.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are safe ways for children to play outdoors. If toys and equipment are being used, be sure to clean them with disinfectant before and after play. Where possible, practice social distancing and where necessary, wear a mask and your kids too. In some Canadian provinces, they are practicing cohorting, where defined groups are consistently together, like a bubble. This can mean no or less need for social distancing as we all know, kids are always tumbling together!

“The use of the outdoors is underestimated and overlooked as a significant COVID-19 mitigation strategy in children’s settings,” says Lawson Foundation Program Director Christine Alden. “Outdoor play experiences are also critical to high quality early learning and child care programs to support healthy child development.”

If you’re not sure about outdoor programs or how to access them, contact your community recreation department to find out their approaches. Each province has different rules and guidelines and while some summer day camps are cancelled, some are running. And if you can, get out into the woods for a day or a weekend camping trip. Change up the scenery and enjoy the wonders of the great Canadian outdoors!

More Insight: Check out this great article on the Thrive Foundation and their work in Africa.

Author: Alexa Hurst is a staff writer for HUM@Nmedia, the parent brand for Optimyz and Silver Magazines based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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