A guest blog from Nature Play SA:
Most of us have fond memories of a childhood spent outside – climbing trees, splashing in creeks, playing cricket in the street, building cubby-houses. We only came inside when it got dark or we got hungry. But something has changed. In the space of a single generation, Australian children have lost the freedom of childhood, exchanged for a sedentary indoor existence dominated by electronic screens. Today’s kids spend less time outside in nature than ever before. They no longer have the freedom or opportunity to roam outdoors.
It is difficult to let our children go, but the danger is that we are raising a generation who lack the confidence to face new challenges, are unable to assess risk, are prone to obesity and behavioural disorders, and who never develop a personal connection to the natural world. Unstructured play is just as important to children’s development as a healthy diet or enough sleep.
That’s why Nature Play SA has been established and why it is so important. A not-for-profit organization, Nature Play’s role is to encourage and provide opportunities for the children of South Australia to spend more time in unstructured play outdoors. Our vision is for outdoor play in nature to become an everyday part of childhood again.
It’s a big challenge. Australian children now spend less time outside than a maximum security prisoner – less than two hours a day. We have more children overweight and presenting with behavioural disorders than every before. South Australian children spend an average 4.5 hours per day in front of a screen, more than double that recommended by the Department of Health and 30 minutes more than the national average. There are many reasons for these changes. The rise of technology, parental anxiety about abduction and crime, shrinking backyards, increased structured activities, boring playgrounds – a perfect storm of pressures and problems is keeping our kids inside.
The good news is that Nature Play SA is working to encourage and enable parents, teachers and carers to get children back outside where they belong.
We have lots of initiatives to help. Our Passport to an amazing childhood is aimed at 5-12 year olds and is packed full of secret missions for kids to complete outside. There is also a passport for 0-5 year olds. In addition, we have our lists of 51 things to do before you’re 12, and 49 things to do before you’re 5 which feature great ideas for outdoor activities. We also have our seasonal lists, 25 Fun Things to do in Summer and will soon be releasing 25 Cool Things to do in Autumn. We also regularly host or partner with others to provide events that families can attend together as an opportunity to get outside, explore, discover and enjoy our surroundings. This year, we are running a Park of the month initiative, where we showcase some of SA’s beautiful conservation and national parks. We are providing activities for visitors to do in each park and giving families an opportunity to experience and explore beautiful scenery and unique flora and fauna.
It’s critical that those of us with precious memories of happy times spent playing outdoors actively reconnect our children with the natural world. Encouraging our children to get outdoors and play is an investment in our children’s, and in our community’s, future health, happiness and prosperity. The best part is, it’s also a lot of fun.