Why sport is an essential part of childhood
Sam Flatman, an expert in playground design and innovation from Pentagon Sport, discusses why your child needs more outdoor play time.
Muddy clothes, bruised knees and running around in the outdoors are all part of growing up. Not only do our children love local playgrounds and open sports fields, but they also depend on these places to learn the kind of life lessons that can’t be taught in the classroom. Sports and play teach children transferable skills that are a necessary part of life.
Physical Well Being
We all want our children to be happy and healthy, and playing sport can help to achieve just that. Sport helps children to keep fit and grants a host of other physical benefits. Playing sports improves children’s locomotor skills (walking, running, jumping) and manipulative skills (throwing, catching, rolling). Practising these skills enables children to feel physically confident and self-assured.
Gross motor skills, like the ones mentioned above, support the development of fine motor skills too. For example, improved posture from practising gross motor skills can improve a learner’s writing ability. Play can also improve balance and hand-eye coordination, both of which are essential skills in daily life. Playing sports is an excellent way to help children with all aspects of physical development.
Playing sport is fantastic for developing and improving social skills too. Being part of a group or a team and working together collaboratively gives children a sense of belonging and camaraderie. Play time provides a rich social environment that is key to developing an understanding of other people’s needs and values, as well as to express their own opinions and ideas to a group.
Playing in the local park or playground is a good opportunity child to socialise and engage with the local community, and playing in school has been shown to improve social relations between diverse groups. Children who grow up close to a playground are more likely to volunteer in their community when they are older, and having a place to play in the community increases overall family happiness.
Play improves social relations because it develops a range of transferable skills. Co-operation, negotiation, flexibility, self-awareness, sharing, turn taking and, of course, teamwork. These skills are some of the most valuable lessons that can be learned on the sports field and in the playground. If children get lots of chances to practise these skills on the sports field, just imagine how good they will be in their chosen working environment 20 years later!
For young children, play is about making sense of the world and figuring out how they fit into it. As children grow older, play manifests itself in the form of games with rules and organised sports. All levels of play involve taking on roles and understanding how they fit into a broader structure, whether it’s negotiating the position of a sandcastle in the sand pit or defending the goal on the football pitch.
In order to achieve their aims, children must be able to comprehend and respond to the emotions of their peers. They must also learn how to cope with their own feelings and express them appropriately. For example, most children come to realise that expressing anger toward their peers will not help them to accomplish what they want and begin to manage these feelings more effectively. Play has been proven to reduce aggression, boost happiness and build self-esteem.
Parents will be pleased to hear that physical activity has been shown to boost test scores! Don’t force children to sit in and study all the time because those who have time for sports and physical activity achieve higher results in Maths, English and reading. Why is that the case? Being more active enlarges the brain’s basal ganglia (the part that helps you pay attention) and this boosts brainpower. Just 20 minutes of outside play in green places can help children to concentrate more in school.
Children who participate in aerobic exercise are more able to resist distraction, have improved maths and problem solving skills and have quicker reaction times. In a study by Hillman et al, children were shown pictures of animals and asked simple questions, such as “Is it a cat or a dog?” The physically fitter children had much quicker reaction times than those who spent less time exercising.
How much play time do children need?
Children need around 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise per day to keep themselves fit and to clear their minds. It is ideal for children to have 3 or 4 weekly afternoon or evening play opportunities. These could be a combination of structured and unstructured activities, for example, after school sports clubs, visiting the local playground with family and/or friends, and unstructured play dates at friends’ houses.
Children benefit more from exercise when they are having fun, so it’s important to offer them variety. Structured sports clubs and PE lessons are great, but children also need free, unstructured play time and opportunities to go cycling in the park or walking in the woods. A variety of play activities will exercise different parts of the body and challenge children in different ways. Now it’s time to play!
Next week Sam will be discussing how to get children to love sport (and ditch the video games)!
About the Author
Sam Flatman has been working in the education and play sector for the past 10 years. He has a passion for outdoor education and believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development. Sam is currently an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Sport.
Pentagon Sport design and install innovative playgrounds and outdoor learning environments for UK schools. Pentagon Sport have been providing play equipment for over 15 years and have worked with over 5000 school settings. Their bespoke designs complement the new curriculum and provide a perfect space for learners to enjoy the natural world.
Pentagon’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PentagonSportUK
Sam’s Twitter: Twitter @samflatman