Children encouraged to play outside for National Tree Day

29 July 2011

Experts are learning more and more about the benefits of outdoor play for children.
Experts are learning more and more about the benefits of outdoor play for children.

In a single generation, children's play activities have shifted from outdoors, to indoors. In her groundbreaking research on children's play from 2005, Professor Anita Bundy discovered that parents' anxiety about risks had the effect of limiting the amount of time children were allowed to play outside.

Such pioneering research in the area has led Professor Bundy, based in Occupational Therapy at the Faculty of Health Sciences, to be selected as a spokesperson for Planet Ark's National Tree Day, held on Sunday 31 July.

National Tree Day focuses on planting trees and also promotes the benefits of outdoor play for children.

"My research interests are complementary to the research that Planet Ark conducted comparing play of parents and those of their children and with their aim to get children outdoors and more active," Professor Bundy says.

"Today's parents are much more fearful of letting their children play outdoors or out of their immediate supervision, because of perceived risks," she says. "But what many parents fail to consider is that restricting outdoor activities may place children in greater jeopardy than any of the risks they intend to avoid in the first place."

In promoting National Tree Day, Professor Bundy has appeared on the Channel 7's Sunrise program, been interviewed by ABC across Australia and by The Daily Telegraph and numerous other Australian newspapers

"National Tree Day is a great opportunity to get outdoors as a family and also to do something positive for the environment," she says. "We think that children's emotional wellbeing, creativity and social skills are impaired by the decrease in outdoor play and we are encouraging parents to get their kids outdoors more and participate in events like National Tree Day."

Professor Bundy's 2005 pilot study 'Popping the Bubblewrap, Unleashing the Power of Play' investigated the benefits of altering a school playground environment, and in doing so found that that playfulness also promoted adaptability, creativity, and good coping and negotiation skills in children. This is in addition to the obvious physical and emotional benefits already well known to be associated with physical activity.

A randomised controlled trial, based on the pilot has now been rolled out across a further 12 NSW schools under National Health and Medical Research Council and Australian Research Council funding.

The project is also conducting risk-reframing groups with parents and teachers helping them to examine their fears around letting children go outdoors to play and the potential negative consequences of that decision, for example, weight gain, poor social negotiation skills that contribute to bullying, and being bullied.

National Tree Day and Schools Tree Day combine to make Australia's biggest community nature care event. National Tree Day was co-founded by Olivia Newton-John and Planet Ark in 1996 and since then more than two million volunteers have planted over 15 million native trees and shrubs.

Professor Bundy will be appearing at Sydney Park in St Peters on National Tree Day on Sunday 31 July.

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