Part I of this topic explained to parents the importance of outdoor play for children’s learning and well-being, including some pointers about eye health.
Part II provides further information on this topic and suggestions for outdoor play.
Although, the guideline for outdoor play has been stated as daily or several times a day, recent studies have found that children are not getting sufficient outdoor playtime. In some countries, outdoor play occurs less frequently than recommended due to safety concerns and emphasis on academic learning.
As a result, there is a conscientious move by policy makers in early childhood organisations to increase outdoor play time to counter the growing phenomenon of digital addiction and obesity. Networks (Children & Nature Network, Wild Network, Kids in Nature Network) have been set up and campaigns (Dirt is Good, Project Wild Thing, JCB Kids Fresh Air Campaign) have been launched to reconnect children with nature. Children are encouraged to go outside to play more often (e.g. during recess time in schools) and parents are encouraged to bring their children outdoors for play.
Between risk taking and safety
As mentioned in Part I, a prime pre-requisite for all outdoor play is adult supervision and a safe context. However, this does not mean that the environment should be risk-free, rather, parents should ensure that children feel safe enough to take some measured risks during outdoor play. By this, we mean that parents should:
- Allow your child to challenge themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Let them push their boundaries during outdoor play. This helps children to develop resilience and they get better at assessing their own abilities and the risks involved.
- Be alert and keep a close watch on your child at all times, as exploratory play can be somewhat unpredictable. Always be within arm’s reach when a young child is playing in or near water. Even a bucket of water can pose a danger to very young children.
- Hold on to children’s hands or give them some support when needed. When the environment is difficult (e.g. a steep slope or wobbly bridge), parents can be with your child and provide some form of help, instead of preventing them from trying due to safety concerns.
Other safety measures that parents should take note of:
- Ensure that your child drinks plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Apply sunblock (and reapply, if needed) and wear a cap/hat.
- Try to get some shade or take more breaks when the weather is warm (especially between 11am to 4pm).
- Wear loose-fitting and light-coloured clothing which are made of breathable fabrics during warm weather.
- Wear appropriate footwear (e.g. covered shoes when going on nature walks).
- Apply insect repellent or wear long pants and clothes with long sleeves to protect from insects.
- Use appropriate safety gear (e.g. helmet when riding a bicycle).
- Seek shelter during heavy rains.
- In nature reserves, keep to the designated trails and do not approach or disturb any animals. The National Parks Board (NParks) advises the public to keep a safe distance from wild animals (e.g. Long-tailed Macaques) and not to feed them.
Strategies involved in outdoor play
In order to let children engage in open-ended and self-directed play outdoors, parents can consider the following:
- Let your child have freedom, so long as it is safe. Provide minimal guidance (e.g. remind about safety issues) and try not to interfere in your child’s play or impose your ideas on them. Give your child the opportunity to think, try and cope on their own.
- Follow your child’s lead. Join in by sharing their enthusiasm and expressing positive responses. Support them in finding out more about things that interest them (e.g. take photos or draw a sketch for reference and look them up in books and internet).
- Do not expect your child to gain something tangible at the end of the play session. What matters in outdoor play is what happens to them during the play, and not so much what they discover or learn during the play.
- Children tend to mimic adults’ actions, inspire your child by showing your enjoyment of the outdoors (e.g. taking photographs, taking time to look at animals, collecting seashells). Do not portray the outdoors as dirty or dangerous, or spend a lot of time distracted with your handphone or tablet.
- Some tools may be needed for outdoor play (e.g. balls to play in the field, buckets and shovel to play at the beach, magnifying glass when visiting nature parks). Young children who are not too keen on walking may find it fun to pull or push a toy along. Collect some pebbles and let your child stack them up, throw them into the water or use them to decorate their sandcastle.
Where to go to enjoy the outdoors in Singapore?
Apart from popular local attractions like the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park and Gardens by the Bay, sandy beaches, parks, nature reserves and farms are also places where families can head to and enjoy the outdoors. Sandy beaches on mainland Singapore include Sembawang Park, Changi Beach Park, East Coast Park, Pasir Ris Beach Park and Punggol Point Park (Punggol beach).
Below are a few places that we suggest for children’s outdoor play:
Jacob Ballas Children’s GardenSingapore Botanic Gardens
West Coast Park
Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park
Hindhede Nature Park
(Note: Access to quarry is closed till end Feb 2017.)
(Note: Admission fee applies to those between 12 and 60 years old.)
NParks regularly organises walks, workshops and events in their parks and reserves. Please go to https://www.nparks.gov.sg/activities/events-and-workshops for more details.
Make it a point to bring your child outside regularly, be it playground or a walk in the park. Even heading to the supermarket on foot can be an opportunity for exploration (e.g. trail of ants, puddles on the pavement after the rain). The opportunities are endless once you step outside.
For the benefit of your child’s development and well-being, we must reiterate that regular outdoor play and early, frequent exposure to natural environments cannot be replaced or neglected.
We wish to thank NParks, Bollywood Veggies, Isaiah Kuan and Jeff Toh for generously giving permission to use their photographs.
Children & Nature Network – http://www.childrenandnature.org/
Wild Network – http://www.thewildnetwork.com/
Kids in Nature Network – http://kidsinnaturenetwork.org.au/
Copyright © Marjory Ebbeck and Wendy Toh 2017
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