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Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play

Last winter, in the midst of a particularly frigid deep freeze, I had the opportunity to comment on a draft Position Statement circulated by Shawna Babcock of KidActive on the role and risks of "Active Outdoor Play. I was so excited about what I was reading. I had visions of printing it off, and running it down to our local Board of Education office, waving it in front of any administrator who would listen.

While I'm normally not that impassioned by policy statements, I was this time. For the last several weeks, in the grips of an unrelenting cold winter, the students at our local school were prohibited from playing on the "back field" at break, due to the risk of slipping on the ice. Three times that week, I drove past our school when kids were on their recess. I had expected to see a flurry of winter wonderland activity: snowfort building, sliding on snowpants, broomball maybe. Instead I saw hundreds of bundled up students, standing around like unhappy penguins trying to keep warm.

When I inquired as to why they weren't allowed to play in the playground in the snow, I learned of a board-wide policy intended to protect students from slipping on the ice and hurting themselves. My immediate thought (which I didn't actually say) was "Gee - that's ironic. I spend good money every year making sure my kid does slip on the ice . It's called hockey, and yes I know it's different because he wears a helmet. " The point was made. I got the intent, but that old school Mom in me was screaming "Are you kidding?? Let's just thrown them their iPods and a pack of smokes and hope for the best." There had to be a better way.

I suggested parents could sign a waiver, I attempted to sign my child out at break and allow them to go a nearby park to build forts or play hockey. None of my workarounds were going to work - from the school's perspective. But now, here in my hot little hand, were cold, hard facts, also known evidence and research, to back up my position.

Snippets of facts with footnotes to support them:

  • "Canadian children are eight times more likely to die as a passenger in a motor vehicle than from being hit by a vehicle when outside on foot or on a bike."

  • " When children spend more time in front of screens they are more likely to be exposed to cyber-predators and violence, and eat unhealthy snacks."

The Position Statement

The position statement gave recommendations to set us on a different path (an evidence-informed track by the way) that would result in happier, fitter (and warmer) students.

Here's what the experts had to say:

Educators and Caregivers: Regularly embrace the outdoors for learning, socialization and physical activity opportunities, in various weather conditions—including rain and snow. Risky active play is an important part of childhood and should not be eliminated from the school yard or childcare centre.

Schools and Municipalities: Examine existing policies and by-laws and reconsider those that pose a barrier to a ctive outdoor play.

Provincial and Municipal Governments: Work together to create an environment where Public Entities are protected from frivolous lawsuits over minor injuries related to normal and healthy outdoor risky active play.

The report ends with this great question: In an era of schoolyard ball bans and debates about safe tobogganing, have we as a society lost the appropriate balance between keeping children healthy and active and protecting them from serious harm? If we make too many rules about what they can and can’t do, will we hinder their natural ability to develop and learn? If we make injury prevention the ultimate goal of outdoor play spaces, will they be any fun? Are children safer sitting on the couch instead of playing actively outside?

The full report is available in both English and French at: http://www.haloresearch.ca/outdoorplay/

Workshop on active play at our upcoming conference!

Active Outdoor Play Position Statement: Nature, risk & children's well-being

Presenters: Shawna Babcock, KidActive @KidActiveCanada 

Marlene Power, Child and Nature Alliance of Canada @cnalliance

Join us to learn about the history, evidence and expertise that contributed to the development of the Active Outdoor Play Position Statement. We will share insights, stories, tools and evidence-based approaches to support the connection between healthy child development and nature, risk and active outdoor play.

 

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