Why kids need outdoor playtime to feed their imaginations
Our education system has changed a lot since the days of learning numbers and alphabet in school rooms. These days, a lot of parents are drawn to homeschooling and interactive learning. They are interested in virtual reality, and in customised systems like Montessori or Waldorf.
Many modern educators admit that rote learning and standardised tests don’t equip kids for in life in the real world. These methods can teach children how to memorise facts, answer questions, and follow instructions, but it doesn’t necessarily teach them social survival skills. We don’t mean they should learn how to hunt bugs and kill their own food, but book learning and algebra won’t help you navigate office politics, raise kids, or manage a home within your budget.
These types of activities need creativity and imagination. And while we’re busy designing psychology-based curricula and researching on early childhood mental processes, we’re forgetting the most basic form of survival: getting your kids to play outside. Outdoor play stimulates imagination, trains kids to handle the world, and gives you some much-needed peace and quiet so you can stay sane and focus on nurturing them.
When children play outside, they don’t do it alone. They will connect with neighbours, or with the friends of their siblings. At school or inside the house, whenever kids disagree with each other, they will run to the teacher or their parents. Each child will give their own biased version of events and expect the grown up to fix things, ideally by punishing the other child.
But in the playground, rules are different. This works best if you – as the adult – don’t hover. Keep at a safe distance, preferably one where they can’t see you – and watch surreptitiously. Once the children realise there is no adult arbitrator, they will come up with their own imaginative way to solve disagreements. It’s an important and constant lesson in conflict resolution. Kids learn to get along with each other, or at least, to get around the people and situations that they dislike.
These playground peace treaties can be quite entertaining, as kids can be oddly creative and they do say the darnedest things. Plus, as a modern parent, it makes for good research. Just by watching, you can discover your children’s individual skills and personalities, which you can build on as you raise them.
You can also identify any trouble areas in their lives because children often imitate adults. As grown-ups, we often forget how closely our kids are observing us until we see them reproducing our words, habits, and patterns. The children will pick up both our good and bad points, so watching them yell at each other, reason with each other, or convince each other through observed persuasion tactics can be enlightening. It will show us where we need to change, and whether there are any adults in their space that they maybe need to see less off.
At its most basic, playing outside encourages imagination because there are no digital distractions. There are no screens or notifications. Outdoor toys and games are utilitarian. You might have a swing, a tree house, a ball, or an activity set. There are no cheat codes, no elaborate virtual paths, no instructions or set tasks for level-up or bitcoin. The children have to develop these for themselves.
At first, they may not know where to start, so you can give them a little guidance. But they will soon realise that an empty plastic fort can be every bit as exciting as driving through the streets of a video game. They can make up their own worlds, complete with its own rules, mores, and hierarchy. Once again, the will likely imitate the patterns they see in the adults around them, so watch and learn.
Children love to ask questions. Usually, when they’ve tired you with endless ‘whys’, you are grateful for some zone-out time in front of the TV or computer. Unfortunately, this form of entertainment is more passive. Also, getting them to stop asking questions and interacting is counter-productive in the long run.
Instead, get them outside. They will literally discover a new world, and will come back with more constructive questions than ‘why is your dress red?’ Of course ,you may end up feeling overwhelmed when they ask why they sky is blue, whether dead insects go to heaven, or what makes grass taste like collard greens. At that point, keep calm and remember: Google Is Your Friend.