Outdoor, active, independent play is disappearing. In the span of a generation, it has been replaced by indoor, sedentary, technology-driven play.
Why? According to Dr. Mariana Brussoni, an expert on risky play, a big reason why kids are spending less time playing outside is that parents fear it is too dangerous. Yet according to Dr. Mark Tremblay, a senior scientist at the CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) Research Institute, children who spend too much time inside are actually at greater risk of harm, when you factor in increased risks of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, lower bone density, and mental health issues.
According to the 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card [PDF], only 39 percent of children and youth met the minimum recommendations for physical activity. Canadian kids scored a D- in active transportation and an F in active play. It’s clear that we must find solutions to provide children, caregivers, and teachers with tools to do better.
Related read: Walk or bike to school for happier, healthier kids
Start by mapping your neighbourhood
The program encourages families to map out a 2.4-kilometre radius from a starting point (home or school) to help parents, caregivers, and teachers to get outside with children and explore their communities.
Why 2.4 kilometres? According to Kerri Murray, Ever Active Schools’ director of projects, it’s based on the typical walk-to-school range established by most Alberta schools.
“Most school jurisdictions specify a radius ranging from 1.6 to 2.4 km, depending on grade configuration in the school, as the ‘walk zone,’” she explains. “Yet, in practice, very few people walk here!”
Related read: How to connect with your neighbours through play
Kids who walk or bike alone spend more time playing outside
Children’s freedom to travel and play in their neighbourhood without adult supervision has decreased drastically over the years. Yet children’s independent mobility is a critical factor in active transport, as well as outdoor play.
The goal of the Ever Active Schools program is to help people become more familiar with their neighbourhoods so parents and children feel more comfortable to explore on their own by walking or wheeling. The program provides support to identify safe routes, explore new streets, and adventure off the beaten path.
When a child becomes independent within their neighbourhood, they develop self-confidence, get better at judging risk, and enjoy more social interactions. They become more physically active too!
Explore, observe, engage
According to Ever Active Schools’ active school travel coordinator Tracey Coutts, there are three parts of the program:
- Explore your 2.4
- Observe what you like and what could be improved within your area
- Engage: take action to improve your community
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to community organizations for support,” she says. “However, if your summer plans are simply to actively explore this space, that is commendable!”
As children interact with their environment and become more aware of what surrounds them, parents can feel more confident about allowing older children to get around by walking or cycling on their own.
In exploring your 2.4 with your family, you can gain peace of mind that your children know where they are within their neighborhoods. Together, you can identify safe zones and set parameters to allow them to explore their 2.4 independently.
Related read: Documentary examines children’s independent mobility
Step by step: How to explore your 2.4
Try this activity with your children to help them get to know your neighbourhood better:
- On a mapping tool, map out your 2.4 (try this Ever Active School Free Resource).
- Using a paper/poster board, draw a large circle. The circle represents your 2.4.
- Draw your starting point at the centre of the circle, home, or school.
- Map out all the things you know and remember about your neighbourhood.
- Go explore your community by walking or wheeling and be mindful of the things you see. Maybe there’s street art, a new path, a park, or a local shop you didn’t realize was there.
- Add the new things you discovered in your community to your poster.
- Take the time to reflect and discuss the things you liked or didn’t like, and how you might take action to change them.
Here’s a neat video from Get Kids Out showing one family’s experience exploring their 2.4: