Getting our kids outdoors
15/12/2020 By Rebecca Burch - Nature Play QLD

Neighbourhood streets have flourished with connection and care

Whilst families have faced many new challenges in these unprecedented times with the pandemic, there have been positive impacts on communities as well.

As many families were homebound working and supporting children to learn at home, more time was spent in family homes and streets within the neighbourhoods. Old friendships were revitalised and new connections were made as more people stepped out from the confines of their home to seek nature. Parents and children headed outdoors for a walk or to throw the ball to the dog soaking up the sunlight and fresh air. Many took the walk to nature spaces nearby to play a friendly game of sport or exercise in green spaces.

In lockdown, without the hectic schedules, the early buses, after-school activities and weekend sport, children have now had more time than ever before to just be present in the moment to enjoy the outdoors and a true opportunity to be just a child. Kelly, parent of 3 young children reflected that “it’s like the childhood I had, just playing outdoors everyday”. Children have been given more opportunities to engage in unstructured free play outdoors, often sharing the space of the front yards, climbing trees on the nature strip, drawing hopscotches on the footpath and hide and seek behind the letterboxes. Imagination, creativity and problem solving blossomed in children as they had time to explore and play outdoors. In one neighbourhood street, the children share their achievements during this time. Maceo, 12 “My neighbour Scotty lent me a skateboard and my friend Matisse taught me how to skate in the street”. His sister Jahzara 6, enthusiastically shared “I learnt to ride my bike for the first time, it was so exciting!”.

The unhurried time gave children opportunities to engage more deeply in play which supported their holistic development. During at home learning, children have been innovative and creating their own routines, as Milly, 9 shared “We organised times for lunch so I worked harder and quicker at my school work so we could come outside and play with my friends. We would be the first ones to knock on our friend’s doors and ask them to come out and play.” The break from the digital screens of learning at home programs has been beneficial for their wellbeing. Children set up picnic blankets on the grassy front lawns, made up dances, stage plays and new games. Sisters, Aurora and Milly were keen to talk about their “best night ever…..we had a movie in the street like a drive in.” Adults have been joining in the fun setting up their camper chairs spaced out across front lawns to connect with one another.

Children have positive attitudes and focus on the benefits brought to their own lives during this time “I did lots of gardening and my garden would not have been as nice if it wasn’t for Coronavirus” Maceo revealed. Research strongly advocates the vast benefits of immersion in nature for our mental health providing a  calming effect on people, lifting moods and reducing stress. Green spaces have been filled with families taking time out to reap the positive effects of connecting with nature.

Relationships within families strengthened as they spent more time together Mattisse, 12, talks about her stronger connection with older brother “We have been nicer to each other, exercising together and spending more time together during Covid”. It has been an opportunity for many to build stronger bonds as they supported each other with household chores, or schoolwork and many finding more time to connect through family games and keeping fit as a family.

Families connected in new ways, with each other and within their communities.  A new sense of connection and care has flourished during this very challenging time with people stopping and saying hello to the neighbours and checking in on elderly residents. Not only have adults and children reaped the benefits of more time outdoors but so has our community. Ava, 5 proudly shared that she “took care of the environment because I was finding rubbish and I putting it in the bin”.

Families have been doing what research has been advocating for some time; head outdoors in nature. This is the lesson learnt, the reminder that we all needed and will hopefully continue as move into a new fresh year, with new healthy habits spending more time connecting with our community in nature.