By Mr Ian Croger (Acting Headmaster)
Growing up near Lake Macquarie we had a great childhood. We were free to roam the local neighbourhood – swim, fish, build cubby houses in the bush, ride our bikes, play cricket and soccer in the local park with the kids in the neighbourhood. The rules were that we had to let Mum know where we were and we had to be home by dinner times.
Things have changed since my childhood (I am not referring to my ageing appearance). Now days, just 8% of children play outside each day with many children glued to screens inside their homes. With more time spent indoors and on screens, a quarter of Australian children aged 5 to 14 years are now overweight or obese. Less than one in five Australian children get their recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Furthermore, about a third exceed the two-hour recommended cap on screen time. Experts are concerned children are also missing out on the complex social interactions that come from playing with friends outdoors.
Of course much of this is due to the changes in our society. Busy ‘time-poor’ parents and the fears for the safety of children have influenced attitudes to outside play.
A response to this issue has been through a pilot program funded by the Queensland Government called ‘Nature Play’ with an aim to recreate the sort of childhoods that were enjoyed a generation ago – where kids roamed free. The Nature Play Program is operating in two Caboolture estates and builds unsupervised outdoor play by encouraging parents to:
- Walk to their neighbours and say hi
- Make a plan and set a goal with kids
- Hold a local street play day
- Create a regular play date
- Walk or ride to neighbourhood kids’ houses
- Walk in the neighbourhood with the children, let them lead
- Ride with the kids in the neighbourhood, teach them road safety
- Explore the wild spaces
- Be consistent
- Plan not to be there
Psychologist and lecturer at Sunshine Coast University Dr Rachael Sharman agrees that children who do spend time playing outside with other kids have better “executive function”, such as forward planning, insight and using creative plans to work towards a goal. They also had better sleep and greater resilience.
“They’re learning lots of skills around emotion recognition, communication, team building and problem solving, and don’t want Mum and Dad helicoptering in and solving all their problems for them,” she said. The program has experienced some successes. The fact that it needed to be introduced is a comment on the current state of communities and the breakdown in communities between families in some neighbourhoods.
We are fortunate that the children in this local rural community have the opportunity to play outside and get to know the other kids in their neighbourhood. However, as life gets busier for parents, the use of technological devices becomes more prevalent and the rural nature of the community becomes more urbanised, there is the risk that our children will lose the opportunities we had as children, to enjoy unsupervised outdoor play.
It also reinforces the importance WAC places on building and engaging with the local community through our various events and programs and the role our Parents’ and Friends’ Association plays in building a sense of community.