When I was a little girl, for several magical years we lived with my grandparents. Aside from spoiling us with love (and candy, of course), my brother and I had the great fortune to play in their backyard, which led into a ravine. We ran, we chased squirrels, we played in the leaves, we wandered, our imagination soared, and when we moved into our next home, aside from my grandparents, who we often visited, it was the ravine I missed the most.
All those memories came rushing back to me when I was reading this article about the benefits of outdoor play. The author, Angela Hanscom, is a pediatric occupational therapist who believes so much in the importance of getting outside, she founded a nature-centred developmental program called Timbernook.
In the article, she discusses how fear of getting hurt by the proverbial sticks and stones is actually causing more harm than good. Hanscom warns, “As we continue to decrease children’s time and space to move and play outdoors, we are seeing a simultaneous rise in the number of children that are presenting with sensory deficits.”
In addition to the sensory issues, Hanscom bemoans that children are “losing their sense of balance, have decreased body awareness and sense of space.” In the article she notes that it’s so bad that school teachers tell her kids are falling out of their seats, running into each other, and are clumsier than they’ve been in years.
What Hanscom is describing is evidence that kids aren’t developing physical literacy. Parents can help by giving kids lots of outdoor time where they can play and take risks. And it’s about being attuned to your child; heed Hanscom’s years of experience when she says, “If a child starts jumping off small rocks, that is because their brain is ready for this type of activity. If a child is spinning in circles just for fun, it is because he or she needs that sensory input. If they climb a tree effortlessly, it means they are capable of doing so.”
Sadly, I can never go back to my carefree days in my grandmother’s ravine, but sometimes when I’m in the backyard or at the park playing explorer with my daughter, I get a little taste of it, and that is its own kind of magic.