Safe Outdoor Play – A New Reality for Kids
Do you miss the days when kids were free to play outside, only coming home when the street lights came on? Life may be less simple these days, but outdoor play is still important for a child’s development. It promotes physical and mental wellbeing, encourages appropriate risk-taking, and creates opportunities for kids to socialize and collaborate. Outdoor play also helps children stay calm and attentive during other activities, supporting better learning outcomes overall.
Despite the well-established benefits of outdoor play, parents are hesitant to let children outdoors without adult supervision. Safety concerns, parental time constraints, and a lack of age-appropriate play areas lead many children to spend most of their time indoors.
How can parents overcome these barriers so kids can reap the benefits of unstructured outdoor play? Here’s Landscape Pros with tips on how to do just that.
The backyard is the ideal place for unstructured outdoor play because a backyard has natural boundaries and is easy to supervise. However, a backyard can still pose threats if it’s unfenced or has hazards like a pool, poisonous plants and chemicals, or trip-and-fall hazards. Parents should store lawn chemicals, grills, and power equipment out of children’s reach and clear the backyard of uplifted roots, holes, and other hazards. A fence is also a worthy investment. While fence installation can be costly — about $4,500 on average — choosing a low-cost fencing material like chain link or wood saves money.
Backyard playsets are a great addition to any family backyard, but improper installation and maintenance can turn a playset into a safety hazard. Playsets should be inspected for loose and exposed bolts, splintering wood, and cuts or slices in plastic at least once a month. Don’t let children use a playset if they exceed the posted weight limit.
You don’t need to splurge on playground equipment to design a stimulating backyard. Natural play features like sandboxes, water tables, rocks, and logs turn a simple backyard into a natural wonderland at a fraction of the cost of a manufactured playset. Natural play also promotes creativity and social development in a way that swing sets simply cannot.
What about families without a backyard? Organizing outdoor meetups with other families provides opportunities for children to play and socialize in a casual environment. Unlike sports and other structured activities, outdoor playdates nurture a child’s imagination while providing an opportunity to develop social skills and executive function.
Outdoor play doesn’t have to last hours to be beneficial. When scheduling constraints limit playtime, get outside in short bursts instead. Children are most active in the first 10 minutes of being outdoors. That means a few 20-minute sessions of outdoor play can be just as beneficial as a full afternoon outdoors. Shorter, more frequent play also breaks up sedentary and screen time to mitigate negative effects.
If you really want your kids to get immersed in nature, there’s no substitute for an old-fashioned camping trip. Research the campsites in your area and pack what you need – but leave the electronics behind, if possible. And if the campsites are too far, you can always start out small and spend a fun night camping in your own backyard. Either way, remember to stay hydrated!
A parent’s job doesn’t stop at providing a safe setting for outdoor play. It’s also up to parents to teach children how to keep themselves safe outdoors. That includes setting boundaries regarding where and when a child can play, explaining risks and how to handle them, and ensuring kids know how to get help if they need it.
Outdoor play isn’t risk-free, and it’s not always easy to fit into a busy parent’s schedule. Yet children have too much to gain from outdoor play to justify keeping them indoors. When children have a safe outdoor space to play freely, families reap the benefits of outdoor play minus the worry.
Landscape Pros is a family owned full service landscape design company with over 30 yrs experience in providing Northern Virginia and surrounding area with professional landscape design and landscaping services. Call (571) 535-8622.