The Importance Of Playing Outside

I had a conversation with a friend who unschools her child recently. She was telling me that his latest passion is the wii. That he spends hours playing on it, creating and imagining. I said, it sounds great as long as he is still getting outside everyday and she looked at me and said “No, we don’t go outside.” This seems to be a common theme among the radical unschooling world. Their children decide they are not interested in going out, and the parents don’t push it.

I believe parenting is such an individual thing and what works for one family won’t work for another. I also believe that people interpret things (such as the unschooling model) in vastly different ways. For me I love the unschooling idea for the trust it places in children. For knowing that children are innately driven to learn and will find their passions without adult intervention.

But I also love the fact that unschooled and home educated children have the opportunity to spend their days learning from life experiences. That they get to socialise not only with children of their own age (within a year) but with younger children, babies, aunts, cousins, grandparents, family friends, shopkeepers, greengrocers, the man at the library…you get my point. To me this provides a rich and exciting experience, stimulating for both the child and the parent.

In my opinion, if a child is spending their days sitting indoors on a computer, or doing any other activity for that matter, they are not learning through life. They are missing out on real experiences, the change in seasons, the inner peace of breathing fresh air and the joy of digging in the mud. They are not getting the exercise their bodies need and I find it hard to understand how their energy can be dispersed fully with such a sedentary lifestyle. Surely this energy comes out in frustration, hyperactivity or aggressive behaviours, or even just boredom?

Honestly, I think I would rather send my son to school rather than have him spend 6 months straight indoors. He would be less bored and I think school is probably a more realistic view of human life than the alternative.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the idea behind radical unschooling, that children will self regulate their eating, computer game playing, whatever it is and find a balanced and fulfilled life for themselves. But I think that as their parents we need to continue with our daily routines and provide a role model for our children. I have always tried to parent as much as possible “as nature intended.” That to me means, spending a lot of time outside, continuing with the adult tasks I need to complete (eg. running the house, laundry, cooking, buying and growing food), including my son in these tasks without being child centered. This means when he was tiny I would wear him in a sling while I went about my jobs (and still do frequently now!), I would give him a cloth to play with while I dusted or a saucepan and a spoon while I cook. I would stop to play a game, tickle him or read a story now and then, but the majority of the time would not be focused on him. This approach provides him with a realistic view of the world, something interesting to watch, learn from and be involved in if he chooses, and doesn’t confuse him in the way that being child centered can.

I also believe that the whole needs of the family need to be taken into account. If my son decided he wanted to stay indoors all the time, what would that mean for myself and my husband? We would have to stop going out or take it in turns, missing out on family time or feeling cooped up and frustrated. I can’t imagine it would do a lot of good for our patience or parenting skills. Sat indoors, within the same unchanging walls, life could quickly become very mundane.

Being outside is, in my opinion, the best place for a child to spend their days. Where else can they explore, imagine, discover, exercise, play, crawl through logs, clamber over branches, splash in puddles and skim stones on the sea. Where else can they notice how the rays of the sun throw colours through the leaves, discover an ants nest and run through tall grass? Where else can they build snowmen, dig a moat, chalk on the pavement and observe nature in all its glory? Where else can they breath in deep and really get to know their world and discover its true beauty?

Image: chrisroll /