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How to make outdoor play safe

Cartoon girls playing
The sights and sounds of children playing together outdoors have waned over the years, but with them go many learning benefits. Try these tips to inspire safe play outdoors.

Playing out today is rare as children spend more time indoors in front of the television or computer and being ferried everywhere in the car.

Some worry that this over-sanitised approach is linked to the rise in learning and health conditions such as dyspraxia, asthma and obesity.

In her book, Toxic Childhood, Sue Palmer says that loss of opportunities for ‘outdoor, loosely supervised play' has a long term effect on children's physical, emotional and social development.

For example, the calls, chants, rhymes and nonsense verses in children's lore give plenty of opportunity to practise phonology, lexis, grammar, syntax and semantics without the children being aware.

Parents should, of course, protect their children by teaching them about stranger danger and road safety, but also need find ways of making outdoor ‘free' play safe. Try these tips:

  • Help children become streetwise by walking around your local community with them so you can demonstrate road safety.
  • Children need to experience all types of weather, so don't allow bad weather to stop play. Just dress them appropriately.
  • Talk to your child about ‘stranger danger’ and teach them what to do in an emergency.
  • Look for places where your child can play safely outside - in your or a neighbour's garden, in parks, recreation grounds, local ‘wild places', even on the pavement outside home if the street is generally free of traffic.
  • Make sure your child knows how to travel by bus, tram or train by doing it regularly together.
  • When children are old enough to go out alone develop a protocol. For example, they should always let you know where they are going and with whom and they should check in regularly with you or other trusted adults.
  • Make contact with other local parents and arrange to keep and eye out for all the children in your neighbourhood. You could also agree on shared ground rules about play, curfews, out-of-bounds areas and so on.
  • Try to provide opportunities for children of all ages to play with peers - both indoors and out - in a loosely supervised environment (with adults on hand but not monitoring every move). As children get older encourage them to go on ‘everyday adventures' and to take ‘safe risks'.
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