Getting Kids Outdoors More

I had the good fortune to attend a talk given by Griffen Longley on my favourite subject - the problem with kids spending too much time indoors. He presented some pretty scary stats about the state of the current generation of children - highlighting that we are right to question whether the current trend of "keeping our kids safe" is actually doing them more harm than good.

He painted one picture where many kids turn up to their first drivers lesson having never ridden a bike on the road, and having almost no pedestrian skills (protective parents having always driven their kids to the school gate, soccer field, dance class etc) and then having to make decisions at 60km/hr with 2 tonne of steel and glass in front of them.

He talked at length about Play and what it means - and how it's NOT structured sports, but just mucking about outdoors.

He insisted he was not going to tell us how to parent/grandparent - but to make outdoor PLAY a priority in their daily lives (as much as homework). Apparently the stats show most 10yr olds spend less than 2 hours outside daily on average (includes recess, lunch and afterschool and any transport time) - which means they're getting less time outdoors than what the inmates at a maximum security prison must be given by law, so most kids are actually under home detention! Not good when the stats also say those same kids spent more than 2 hours per day engaged behind screens. He was sure to highlight though that the problem is not just the computers/phones/tv but more the lack of PLAY - as this is entertainment = no creativity.

The worry for this generation is what sort of people they will become with underdeveloped spatial awareness, and poor creativity.

He cited a 3 year Australian study that proved that 30mins of daily outdoor play improved Naplan scores - and this evidence was used by Dept of Sport & Rec (by whom he is employed) to develop school diaries for 2014 that include play as part of their daily homework. You can see it HERE - please forward this to any school's you think would be keen to take action to help the youth of today and embrace this great initiative - I am going to get my kids school onto it.

Of course, he acknowledged that we do not live in the same world as the previous generations & as a consequence we as parents (and grandparents) feel obligated to "protect" our children from perceived risks. However, he went into some detail about this and basically, its all due to the litigious issues and not based on a risk "benefit" approach.

There comes a point where we forget to give the kids an open door because we're so preoccupied with our routine of work/pickups/drop offs and the kids are happy to be left alone to themselves and the enthralling world of entertainment.

It was a wake up call for me - despite this being my pet favourite subject (getting kids outdoors) I am just like any other parent and need to be told its ok to give the kids more freedoms. The Nature Play website has good ideas for making the transition if you're a parent/grandparent wanting to get the kids outdoors more, when camping isn't possible everyday.

I think its great to know that organisations like Sport & Rec are getting out there to reach parents with this information and support. This talk was held at my daughter's P&F general meeting at the high school and was promoted through the school newsletter etc to get a good turnout. I'm so glad I went.
Michelle Martin
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Reply By: Robin Miller - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 18:37

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 18:37
We got our son a trailbike when he was 4 Michelle - makes them never look back and gives them constant challenges.

There is a potential downside I guess , but there is a real upside.

By the time they were 14 they had driven the Coorong and by 18 ridden the Simpson dessert.

Is amazing the can do attitude difference it has created that I feel will set them up for life.
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Reply By: SDG - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 19:17

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 19:17
I have been abused by other parents for letting my son ride his bike to school. Either to hot, to cold, or to wet.He has been doing this since he was about 7/8. Now 12. This same parents are still driving their little darlings, of the same age, some as close as two blocks from school.

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Follow Up By: fisho64 - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 21:06

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 21:06
you must go to a strange school?
Where the parents "abuse" other parents for letting their kids ride to school, or for anything other than beating your kids in public etc. Are you sure thats not an exaggeration?
If not Id be reporting those parents to the school if it happens at or near the school.
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Follow Up By: SDG - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 22:03

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 22:03
This happened a couple of years ago.
Standing there and telling me off, because i let him ride, is a form of abuse. He rides rain, hail or shine.
I told them where to go. Very politely.
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Reply By: Meridith D - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 19:26

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 19:26
My girls owned their own horses from the ages of 8 & 10. They were expected to ride them and care for them which they have always done. I (obviously) paid for everything, delivered their feed, and transported them all around the state for competitions (they were into Eventing) but otherwise they were expected to do all other care including cleaning paddocks and their gear, along with presenting a gleaming horse to competitions. They are now both independent and responsible at the ages of 19 & 22, fit and healthy.

A great way to get them outside, seemingly rain, hail or shine. It did come along with broken bones and a few other injuries but they both survived (and their horses).
Kids need to get outside! And as parents, we need to find those avenues to encourage them .
AnswerID: 511615

Reply By: mikehzz - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 19:36

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 19:36
I actually do not believe that there are any more risks out there today compared with say 40 years ago. There were kidnappings and child murders back then, quite famous ones. It is safer on the road now even though there are more cars. There is a real nanny mentality out there today that is trying to combat the effects of evolution and the natural selection process. I walked to school on my own from kindergarten through the streets of Sydney. I played with mates after school and had to be home by dark. Mum and Dad had no idea where I was. It sounds like they were bad parents by today's standards but they were absolutely fantastic and fairly normal for the period. A few good smacks very early on set me on a straight course and they never had to touch me again....you can't do that now either :-) I'm not saying it was better or worse, just different. Time will tell on it, you can only protect people from evolution for so long. There may be some spectacular Darwin Award winners waiting in protected nanny shelters as we speak. :-)
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Follow Up By: ExplorOz Team - Michelle - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 21:37

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 21:37
Well according to the stats presented by Griffen, the ratio of harm to kids caused by others has not changed over time but we have good reason to rein in the kids under 10 when it comes to crossing roads etc as we now know that their vison is not fully developed until that age. Again the issue is balance and the risk benefit.
Michelle Martin
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Reply By: ExplorOz Team - Michelle - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 21:32

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 21:32
Thank you for your contributions to this post. This is about todays children where the issue has reached a crisis point. I'm sure many here with young kids are like us and always seeking ways to encourage the kids to be outside but we are apparently the minority. I was surprised at the extent of the problem when I heard the broader stats from around the country and even within different towns of our state. It's time more parents felt confident to give their kids life lessons and in doing so be better parents!
Michelle Martin
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Reply By: Member - Leanne W (NSW) - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 22:42

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 22:42
Great post. I worry about how little time my 8yo spends outside too. Although her school is great with their 'active after school' program. Two afternoons a week they do all sorts of outdoor activities/games for an hour. The kids love it. My daughter has also just started pony club this year which has been another way to get her out of the house.
My other daughter who is almost 2 loves being outside. They are almost like opposites!
Leanne
AnswerID: 511634

Reply By: Member - John and Val - Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 08:51

Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 08:51
Hi Michelle,
Excellent post and an issue that many grandparents (like us) are concerned about. Its a complex issue too, its not just the getting outside in the sun and fresh air, its the exercise and the development of creativity and self identity/awareness that all flow from having some free, unstructured time.

You say "There comes a point where we forget to give the kids an open door because we're so preoccupied with our routine of work/pickups/drop offs and the kids are happy to be left alone to themselves and the enthralling world of entertainment." I think parents have to lead the way. To take a small example - we often see on here people who are going on a trip with their kids relying on electronic devices to keep their kids amused while travelling. Well, as an electronic device user myself I would agree that they have their uses - but not to the exclusion of all the other great opportunities that arise on a long trip. Aware and creative parents can turn that trip time into a happy family learning time, just a bit of effort and forward planning might be required. What really amazes me is how defensive/aggressive some posters can be on here if anyone dares to point this out.

I wish you and your family every success in getting your kids outdoors!

Cheers,

Val
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Reply By: Member - Wamuranman - Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 15:04

Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 15:04
Hi Michelle,

This is a good topic and one that I have often thought about.

One of the features of modern housing estates is the decreasing size of the blocks of land …some now down to 350 sq mtres. In many cases this “forces” children to be inside and on computers, watching TV etc as their backyard is too small and unattractive for any meaningful play. Also it’s felt to be “unsafe” to be down the local park without supervision.

If it is at all possible I would encourage parents to buy small acreage if it’s affordable in their area. Fortunately in the outskirts of Brisbane this is still possible for middle income families. Our girls grew up on acreage and animals (pets) played a huge role in the childhood….their fondest memories are playing outside with their pets. After school they would rush outside to ride their ponies. Computer games or TV were no match for the attractions of outdoors with their pets (even simple jobs like collecting the eggs or giving the ducks some grain etc.). It is the simple things in life that are often the best.

We had 10ft wide verandas all the way around the house. One of the favourite “toys” our girls had was a pedal driven jeep. This is how they learnt to drive. They would swing it around and do a 3 point turn on the verandah with precision. When it came time to get a driver’s license they were “experts” at 3 point turns and had excellent spatial judgment.

I think personally the trend towards smaller housing lots is sad when we live in a vast country with huge land mass. Some children never experience the joys of owning a pet except for a goldfish! Australia is a wealthy country but today families appear to have a lower quality of life than their forebears in terms of their lifestyle… they may have all the latest electronic gadgets but do they have real happiness?

Cheers
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