Go outside and play

For their health and wellbeing,kids need to play and get physical outside – even when it’s wet and cold. By Kate Barber

Exercising and exploring outdoors is crucial for children’s physical, emotional, social and intellectual development. Children test and extend their physical capabilities, burn off energy, learn about the world around them, and build relationships with others.

Getting outside regularly, including when it’s wet and cold, also helps reinforce those dispositions
like resilience, determination and curiosity. It certainly challenges the idea that “you can’t play outside when it’s raining”, and boosts kids’ self-belief and sense of adventure.

Sometimes kids just need to get outside and be wild – especially if they’ve been spending more time indoors because of the weather. Lots of kids love a little roughhousing with friends and family, and neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis says that as long as it’s not violent or destructive, rough and tumble play is normal and beneficial for their moods and development.

In addition to burning off energy, roughhousing can help build relationships and teach boundaries. With bodies that are growing fast, rough and tumble play supports kids to develop proprioception, that is, their sense of their own body in space, he says. 

With more cold weather ahead of us, our kids need to soak up as much sunshine (and vitamin D) as they can. But there are clear benefits to outdoor adventures even when the sun isn’t shining.

Our cultural assumptions around gender inform how we socialise children and how we view rough and tumble play. There are plenty of kids, both boys and girls, who are drawn to this kind of play.

As our young children encounter more formal schooling, and spend more time indoors on screens, we need to give them more opportunities to play and get physical. This could mean encouraging wild, noisy, boisterous play outside in the wet and cold. 

Of course, puddles and trees struggle to compete with screens, which give kids instant hits of dopamine. Closing the iPad and opening the doors can spark tantrums in youngsters. Nathan says, “It’s important to ritualise time outside” – to make it a regular part of the day and week – and by doing so, start to embed a new attitude towards outdoor adventures and play for everyone in the family.

Ideas for all-weather adventures

  • For little ones, nothing beats jumping in muddy puddles.
  • Make a dam across a river or a hut in the forest.
  • Go down to the beach at night-time to listen to the crashing waves, or at dawn to watch the sunrise. The best time to see Matariki is just before the sunrise. 
  • Explore a Kiwi Guardian site. Kids can follow a map to find the guardian post and then claim a special certificate and Kiwi Guardian medal. doc.govt.nz/kiwiguardians