Outdoor play is essential to a healthy childhood

Natalie Kawalec

Contributing Writer

Meeting up with neighbors after school to play soccer or hide-and-seek, fish in the creek, or climb up to a tree house were outdoor activities I enjoyed during my childhood. Whether it was kickball, hopscotch, or tag, exploring the outdoors seemed like a necessity to our survival. We did everything we could to play outside, and when we did something bad, our punishment was not being allowed to go outside. What kid doesn’t come home for dinner dirty and wearing tattered clothes? The answer is one that has a smartphone.

Kids are getting phones, specifically smartphones, at younger ages nowadays. I had my first cell phone when I was 11 years old, and I had my first smartphone when I was 14. Now, toddlers have smartphones. Shielding children from electronics in the technologically dependent world we live in is impossible, but buying them a smartphone when they are actually ready for one is a practical choice. This poses the question–when are they ready? This is subjective and will differ from household to household, but I think someone is mature enough and ready for a smartphone when he or she is actually able to use all the applications and features the device has to offer.

Giving children iPhones before they even know the alphabet or how to compute basic math is not beneficial. A child’s mind is not nearly developed enough to already be dependent on technology. There are apps that help boost a child’s brain activity and vocabulary, but children should still acquire basic skills, like reading an actual book and playing physical games, prior to accessing technology. Young children that persistently use smartphones will not even know how to flip pages of a book, but will try to tap them instead. Technology does not teach patience, real-life skills, or critical thinking. It gives you instant satisfaction because there is always a shortcut to a problem.

Outdoor play is critical for young children. Children learn vital developmental tasks such as exploration, motor skills, movement skills, risk-taking, and general life knowledge. Children need opportunities to discover, wonder, experiment, and build. They have to push their limits to see their physical competences in nature. Children learn essential knowledge about how the world works from playing outdoors. How does grass feel? What happens when you throw a pebble into a pond? Our connection with the natural world can only be determined by first-hand experience. It is frightening to think that at this rate, outdoor play will not be part of a child’s development in future generations.

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