The benefits of outdoor play…

The benefits of outdoor play, by Verity Worthington...

I’ve recently trained as a secondary school teacher, and as part of our training, we were sent on a day’s outdoor adventure. I always dreaded PE at school, not because I didn’t like exercise but because I didn’t like the regimental routines of getting changed and having no choice about what we did. I was also very conscious that I wasn’t perhaps as fit as the other girls, and wouldn’t be chosen first. Consequently I dreaded our day of outdoor adventure, and didn’t sleep much the night before. There was talk of climbing telegraph poles and high ropes. It all sounded awful. It’s incredible how school memories of exercise can impact upon us in adulthood. (No one mention the Bleep Test please!) On a serious note, our own apprehensions can be passed onto our children, and I’m conscious that there is much fun to be had the other side of my fears.

As it happened, we spent a lot of time discussing the benefits of outdoor education, and what our students can gain from being engaged in adventure activities and working together outside. When it came to our own adventures, we were encouraged to push ourselves, but it was our own decision how far we went. Suffice to say I was much better holding the ropes than scaling the pole! Being in control of my own limits was hugely important for me, and something I aim to emphasise as both a parent and teacher. Essentially, team work is always beneficial, whether you be holding the ropes or on top of the pole.

From a young age our children have so much pressure in terms of education and assessments. There is a lot of time spent indoors, and our busy lifestyles mean that tablets and technology can provide a necessary distraction whilst we prepare food or settle other children to sleep. At the same time, society seems to consider risk a dangerous concept and one mostly to be avoided. Despite the rigorous risk assessments, we all remember the rare but usually serious accidents reported in the press, and many are frightened or put off taking risks. I had my own heart in my mouth the other day when my 4 year old successfully scaled the Spider’s Web at the park for the first time. I could feel my heart beating a little faster as I worried he may fall, get stuck, or tangled in the ropes. He didn’t. He was proud as punch, and the view from the top soared his confidence. In keeping my own fears hidden and encouraging him to achieve his goal, he felt safe, successful and the king of the park!

We all know the health benefits of being outside, exercise improves not only our physical health, but our mental health too. For children who spend so much of their lives in a classroom, this is a great opportunity for building confidence and resilience. If this is shared with us as parents, it is a new opportunity to build trust and make memories at the same time. I think it’s good for us to show our own vulnerabilities and fears; and share in overcoming these together; we as parents are not finished articles. Adventure opens possibilities to young minds; and takes them away from the day to day routine.

It only takes one experience to cultivate dreams and goals. Giving your child the opportunity to engage with nature and adventure may sit on the periphery of your comfort zone at times, but this isn’t a bad thing. To quote a well used expression, feel the fear and do it anyway, and in the process, feel like my 4 year old did as he made it to the top of the spiders web for the first time!

Written by Verity Worthington (single mother, blogger and teacher)

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