So, how important is outdoor sports @ school – for mental health & overall development of children, in addition to core academics, art, music, theater and extracurricular activities?
very, very important!
There’s a big shift trending in society already – “sports” is being seriously considered by children and parents as an attractive “profession” option, so investing time in sports is not a waste – as some of us used to earlier think. Besides its so very important for developing children’s mental health & critical to life social skills
Besides adopting sports as a profession, lets dive back to the main subject of discussion, i.e. relevance of sports as part of regular main stream” children – who are not planning to take up sports as a profession.
May be contextual, to keep in perspective that during last two-three years – most children have been constrained/restricted to go out and play – owing to COVID. This has led to developmental lags owing to restricted outdoor engagement, activities & play, which has impacted mental development often and multiple other social skills, team skills, collaboration, etc.
Schools have reopened physical campuses only during 2022. Feedback from most schools suggests that consequent to children spending less time outdoors, they had become less physically active and spent more time indoors, in relatively sedentary activities, including spending a lot of time unfortunately in front of screens.
Children are noticeably less fit; are falling ill more frequently and sometimes have communication, social, cognitive and developmental gaps – which need correction – given that school closures & restrictions to play in residential areas had reduced opportunities to play with friends.
Since behaviours are formed and reinforced by habit, many children have lost the habit of playing outside during this period, while some others seem to “not” have had the opportunity to develop the habit at all.
Multiple research studies indicate that active outdoor play has tremendous benefits for child health, overall wellbeing, happiness, desire to learn, self-esteem & confidence, and building social & team collaboration skills as well as overall development and educational attainment.
“play is so important in childhood, that it is enshrined as a human right in article 31 of the UN Rights of Child “
Free play, running, trekking, cycling, swimming, climbing, exploring, outdoor games not only provide opportunities for physical activity, they also stimulate imagination and creativity, help develop problem-overcoming -solving skills and encourage interaction with others and the environment.
“Free play outdoors” – which isn’t organised or supervised closely by parents – is especially good for developing exploring skills, overall wellbeing, social and emotional development and resilience.
So it’s time to encourage & restore the habit of play & sports outdoors – especially in school. Thus schools with low number of children and sections, space to play, playgrounds & play/sports integrated into curriculum are even more important today.
Yes, can get hot or polluted outside on some days – so its apt to get innovative about facilitating play in appropriate play areas – by inter-alias leveraging some shade, growing lots of plants around the play areas/grounds to clean the air (plants are known to recharge & clean the air dramatically) – and so overall let’s strive to encourage free outdoor play!
The overall balance of sports (especially outdoor) needs to be apt and rapidly corrected now – for meeting both developmental & immunity goal posts of our children. “Cooped up”, glued to a computer/phone screen needs to significantly tempered with blasts of fresh air, play, sports and running free without being supervised too closely.
And so resurrecting active outdoor play means getting more children outdoors often and to “rewire” childhood. That also means occasional travel or family outings to explore nature; making park visits & occasional picnic, trek; encouraging children to play imaginatively outside, like building dens, asking questions, doing some imaginative project or just exploring the outside – i.e. outdoor play fosters curiosity, exploration, co-operation, imagination and self-expression.
Repeating it becomes a habit that children enjoy and look forward to in sports, especially if they can meet, engage with and play with other kids.
So outdoor sports in schools is very, very critical!
This generation of children will face a range of challenges in the coming future, including climate change, Geo political shifts, and rapid technological change. They will thus need to become habitually physically active too, in order to grow into healthy, resilient & adaptive adults who can survive and thrive in a rapidly evolving world.
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