Look around. Do you notice that children aren’t looking as fit as they used to look? Listen to the children. Have you heard “I’m bored” come out of anyone lately? What about the teachers? How
well do they really KNOW the children in their classroom? What about society, in general: do we seem relaxed or tense? It may seem impossible that one simple change in how we take care of our children might help across the board with all of these problems. I assert that the ever-decreasing amount of quality “outside time” has contributed to a host of negative trends. Making sure that outside activities are viewed as fundamental parts of each child’s day can be an important step in reversing these trends.
While studies that quantify the decrease in outside time among children are hard to come by, the overall trend has been noted by many authors (Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2004) . Gardner reports, for instance, that parents feel they have hectic schedules, and supervising children outdoors is time-consuming (2006). Parents have fears about the outdoors regarding the sun, strangers, and insects. Therefore, they feel safer keeping their children inside. Torgan asks what we hear when we open our windows on a sunny afternoon: The chirping of birds? The voices of playing children? She states that, odds are these days that you will hear the birds but not the children (2002).
The factors that have led to reduced outside time are varied. Technological advancement (air conditioning, television, computer games, etc.) seems to be partly responsible. Another factor may be the horrifying stories the media broadcasts about abductions of young children from public spaces. Parents may feel less comfortable about their children playing outdoors than they would about in-home play options (such as the aforementioned computer games or television) or carefully supervised play dates. Yet another factor may be parents’ attempts to renew focus on academic achievement in the classroom, especially due to the increased reliance on standardized tests to measure their child’s success. An unintended result of this new focus is that these activities seem to have come at the expense of outdoor activities, including both sports and “play” time.
Adding to the dilemma is a trend among many public school districts throughout the United States to eliminate recess in elementary schools. Those doing away cutting out outdoor activities claim that not only is it a waste of time better spent on academics (as noted above), but that playground injuries promote lawsuits, increase children’s’ risk of coming in contact with threatening strangers while outdoors, and point to a shortage of teachers and volunteers willing to supervise play activities outside (National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, January, 2006).