I have found it tough returning to Singapore, since spending the Christmas break home in my native Australia. Mainly because of the impact our time away was having on my 5-year old daughter.
Over the holiday period, we watched her self-confidence unfold as she spent more time in the natural environment with unstructured outdoor play.
Don’t get me wrong, outdoor unstructured play exists in Singapore, but it can be more challenging to implement due to factors such as heat, humidity and access to green spaces. But it is becoming increasingly critical that we overcome these barriers and find solutions to the problem, for the sake of our kids, especially our daughters.
I am sure all of us are aware and have experienced the positive benefits of the natural environment. For me, being out in nature, running a mountain trail, camping under the stars, or swimming in the ocean is soul food. It makes me feel energised, positive, and motivated, and I am certain it has the same impact on children. Well, if the research is anything to go by, it does. The numerous amount of studies done totally favour unstructured outdoor play in the natural environment. However, the surprising fact is that unstructured outdoor play is very much on the decline, and the result of this decline is negatively impacting our children.
A recent study, conducted in Norway, shows an increase in childhood obesity, an increase in screen time (up to 3 hours per day for many) and a decline in motor skills amongst children. Not to mention an increasing need for physical therapy classes, to develop core strength and posture, all due to a lack of physical activity, much of which can be undertaken for free, outdoors.
The same research also states that 40% of children aged between 3 and 7 expressed a wish for more time for physical activity. However, these same children also complained about the lack of suitable areas for free time activities such as climbing, building dens and “mucking” around.
Natural environments represent dynamic and rough playscapes that challenge motor activity in children. Topography, like slopes and rocks, afford natural obstacles that children have to cope with, vegetation provides shelters and trees for climbing and open grass areas are ideal for running and tumbling.
I certainly noticed the positive impact as I watched my daughter climb trees, discover dens, scamper over rocky ledges and just run around. She thrived by just playing, no classes, no lessons, no teachers, just play.
So, as a mother, passionate about building girls self-esteem and confidence through physical activities it has been hard leaving Australian shores. The beaches, parks and backyards that come with Australian territory are incredible resources for building self-esteem, creativity and confidence.
Our mornings spent at the beach playing in rock pools or on the farm finding animal hideouts in paddocks will be replaced with perfect swimming pools and structured extra-curricular activities. But it has made me even more determined to create a more free play environment for my daughter in Singapore and to try and implement three easy solutions
- Make an increased effort to get to outdoor areas such as the Botanic Gardens and East Coast Park for just running and mucking around.
- Choose parks with trees and rocks and slopes, rather than a constructed playground.
- Encourage outdoor play whenever possible, be it, jumping in puddles on the concrete driveway or walking to the library instead of taking the car