Out-and-about health benefits
Kids not getting enough play outdoors
At 18 months, Savannah Krome-deering can already name her favourite place: “out.”
Fortunately for Savannah, parents Tamara and Luke are big believers in the benefits of time spent outdoors, so the toddler is outside one to five hours every day in her “muddy buddy,” a waterproof bodysuit.
“I really don’t have much of a choice. From the minute she wakes up, she runs and gets her little shoes and brings them to me and it’s ‘out,’” said Tamara, who lives in Sooke.
But Savannah is an exception — outdoor time for kids under four is becoming an increasing rarity.
A new survey of about 9,000 parents from the Seattle Children’s Research Foundation, published this month in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, found about half the children in the sample didn’t get even one parent supervised daily outdoor play opportunity.
The survey also showed parents with more than a high school education were less likely to take their kids outside on a daily basis.
Surprisingly, the survey found no link between TV or other screen time and lack of outdoor play.
Study leader Dr. Pooja Tandon, a pediatrician with Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington, said parents shouldn’t read the study as an admonishment — “one more thing for parents to feel guilty about.
“But to the extent possible, we can include the outdoors in the things we enjoy doing with our families,” said Tandon, a mother of two boys, ages two and six.
Tandon said the benefits of outdoor physical activity are huge.
“Their physical activity is essentially play,” said Tandon. “When children are outdoors, they are afforded the ability to play in a more active manner in ways they might not necessarily do indoors.”
Tandon said it’s tough to pin down why younger children aren’t spending enough time outside.
One possible explanation is that parents are busy and often both work. Getting kids outside is left to daycares, or caregivers, who may not be doing it.
Poor weather can also keep kids indoors more. But Tandon said that’s a problem for parents, not kids. Parents, teachers and childcare workers often just don’t want to spend time dressing, undressing, drying or cleaning up their charges.
“When kids get wet, they get messed, they get dirty and often, it’s inconvenient for the adults, not the children,” she said.
“If children are warm and dry and generally wellequipped in terms of their clothing, they are probably perfectly happy outdoors.”
The reluctance to let children get dirty may be responsible for keeping more girls indoors, she said, since girls are more likely to be encouraged to keep neat and tidy.
According to the survey, girls are about 15 per cent less likely to receive daily outdoor playtime.
“That was such a disturbing finding,” said Tandon, who points out that other studies have already shown that girls are much less active than boys by the time they are in middle and high school — possibly the result of a lack of earlier opportunities.
“Those early years of having them develop the skills and the confidence and the enjoyment of physical activity is important,” said Tandon.
How to get kids outside
Dr. Pooja Tendon has a few tips for parents to increase outdoor play time:
If your child is in daycare or with a caregiver, ask about outdoor play time.
Increase awareness among friends and other parents about why it’s important for children to play outdoors.
Encourage and support girls to play outdoors.
Don’t let darkness or bad weather deter you from getting outside with your kids. Why not dress up and invite some friends. Take a “flashlight walk” after dark.