Bush visits a highlight of the week
In an age of PlayStation, cable TV and iPads, it’s rare that today’s children play outside like their parents did when they were growing up.
In fact, research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that for 98 per cent of Australian children, watching television is the most common recreational activity.
But the benefits of free, unstructured play are numerous.
It can help boost problem-solving skills, focus and self-discipline. It helps children learn how to cooperate with others, reduces aggression and increases happiness.
For the early learning educators at Goodstart Ashgrove, the benefits of outdoor play are paying off.
Every week, about 22 kindergarten children head to Ithaca Creek, a 10-minute walk from the centre. There, the children explore the forest, catch tadpoles and frogs, identify birds and insects, and clean up rubbish in the area.
It’s an initiative that was introduced into the centre two months ago and educators are looking forward to starting up the bush visits again in the next few weeks.
Assistant centre director Jacqui Dixon said the children loved their weekly trips to Ithaca Creek.
“We usually spend about an hour in the bush, talking about the animals we see, the different types of birds, the tadpoles and their life cycles,” Ms Dixon said. “And then we take what we’ve learnt back to the classroom for more discussions during the week.”
She said the initiative began as part of a commitment to sustainability within the centre, and a recognition amongst the educators of the importance of outdoor play.
“Outdoor play and exploration can really help children with their physical and social skills, can teach them to manage risks, such as climbing trees, or jumping puddles, and gives them a respect for nature,” Ms Dixon said.
“Playing outside allows children to develop their cognitive, problem solving and emotional skills.”
Deakin University research shows there is a growing link between physical activity, nature and health and the shift to indoor play and devices is raising health concerns including obesity. The report found that outdoor play was essential in children’s growth and healthy development.
“And these benefits are reflected back at the centre where we are planning a vegetable patch for the children, have set up worm farms and are composting all of our scraps,” Ms Dixon said.