Teach your child to play outdoors

Brothers in the park with their dog
Past generations of children spent many happy hours enjoying the benefits of playing outdoors. But in recent years, concerns about safety have increased. So how do we encourage safer play outdoors?

With developments in technology and multimedia, such as television, computers and internet, keeping children indoors where we can keep an eye on them seems the safer option. But beyond televisions and computer lies a world unconfined by walls and ceilings, an organic and natural place where learning can take diverse shapes and forms.

Benefits of playing outdoors

Playing outdoors can have many benefits:

  • It supports the development of healthy and active lifestyles
  • It promotes a sense of confidence and wellbeing
  • It provides opportunities for developing harmonious relationships with others, through negotiation, taking turns and cooperation
  • It supports those children who learn best through activity or movement
  • It provides safe and supervised opportunities for children to experience new challenges, assess risk and develop the skills to manage difficult situations
  • It supports children's developing creativity and problem-solving skills
  • It provides rich opportunities for imagination, inventiveness and resourcefulness
  • It gives children contact with the natural world, including direct contact with the weather and seasons.

Many children who struggle with classroom-based learning, find they excel in learning outdoors because it releases them from the pressures they may associate with indoor learning. Outdoor learning and playing can take place in massively diverse settings - whether it's your back garden, local park, heritage site, or a farm.

Teach safety outdoors

As parents there are loads of ways you can give your child the opportunities to explore this exciting world, without having the added stress of safety-anxieties. Try these tips:

  • If your child wants to play out, make sure they are with friends or another appropriate adult. Ask a big sister or brother or older child to help supervise and ensure they know what dangers to look out for.
  • There are plenty of supervised playgrounds across the country, where your child can play to their heart's content and you can observe from afar. Try checking your local council's website for the nearest one.
  • For more supervised outdoor explorations, your child could try an Outward Bound course, participate in the Duke of Edinburgh's awards, or join Scouts or Guides where they will learn a variety of useful outdoor skills.
  • Agree set times for your child to play out (before it begins to get dark). If you are particularly anxious you could give them a mobile phone or walkie talkie (to be used sensibly) so you can keep in touch with them. But remember not to call them too often!
  • You may want to set up a neighbourhood scheme where parents take turns to supervise children playing in the street.
  • Agree on areas your child may go, and out-of-bounds areas. You might want to take your child to some areas and explain potential dangers and show them safe routes.
  • Ensure that your child knows about road safety and ‘stranger danger' and how to respond to it.
  • Finally, encourage them to share their experiences and be open with you if anything happens which they are not happy about.