FROM THE CLASSROOM: The importance of being outdoors

Sunday August 12 2018

Waheeda Samji

Waheeda Samji 

By Waheeda Shariff Samji

The other day, I read an article about how the average school-going child (aged 5-12 years old) of today spends less than 30 minutes playing outside. I found this quite disturbing, although not altogether unexpected in this day of smartphones and screen time.

Our children seem to spend their days mostly inside – either in a car, driving to and from school; inside a classroom, being taught lessons, indoors at home, doing homework or stuck to a screen.

The only time they spend meaningfully outside is in PE class, or catching a few shades of sun in the increasingly short recess times at school.

One in nine children have not been to a park, forest, or beach in 12 months, over 30 per cent have never played in mud, and over 50 per cent have never built a sandcastle or had a picnic. And to put it into perspective, the average US prisoner spends 4 times more time outside than our children do!

Even more interestingly, as parents, we seem to have programmed ourselves to think that this is perfectly acceptable, and we resist any change to this quite vociferously.

We seem to like the idea that our children spend most of their time in confined environments, as if this will somehow result in them being ‘smarter’, and have convinced ourselves that this is a proxy for good grades.

As working parents, it is also easier and less work for us to deal with children being indoors than to have to trek with them to the beach or the park, or supervise them outside. And so as sad as it is, we don’t insist on our children going to play outside.

An increasing amount of research suggests that more frequent and longer recess times in school result in better focus, attention and results from children.

The less time children spend outside playing increasingly leads to children who are not just physically and mentally ill, but less imaginative, less active and less social.

The more time children spend outside results in lower rates of obesity and chronic illnesses, as well as lower levels of stress and anxiety.

But if any schools were to even suggest that classroom time be reduced to accommodate more recess time outside, we would be inclined as parents to reject this as an overly free-range notion.

We would rally against it aggressively, and gather our friends and colleagues to support motions against the very notion.

Although we like to think of ourselves as liberal and open to change, recommendations such as these would bring out the worst of our conservative roots.

How dare anyone even suggest shorter classes or less teaching time, even if all the research supports the idea – that would be akin to ripping us off our school fees!