With more activities happening indoors, this week's Expert Series looks at what Mummy Cai has to say about going outdoors and a generation of indoor kids.
Written by Cai Lin Ng
On my first weekend back in Singapore, I saw a continuous stream of cars stopping at a lobby of a building at Marine Parade. Children were being dropped off one by one.
I turned to my mother, “Why are there so many children?” I asked. After all this building was nondescript, it did not look like there was anything fun going on inside. “Enrichment lah!” She said, clearly surprised at my question.
It didn’t end there
While hunting for a preschool for my daughter, I realised that outdoor play was not prioritised here. During school tours, principals would talk about their academic curriculum first, before anything else. It does not help that many preschools are shorthanded, which makes bringing the children outside logistically tougher. A child spends close to 8 hours at childcare and only heads outside for an hour at most. That is very little time. Put yourself in their shoes. If you were told that you can only escape the office for an hour of lunch break, how would you feel?
Times have changed. Children are playing outdoors far less per day than children twenty years ago.
Parents are worried about the weather. I talked to a preschool teacher and learnt that her school monitors hourly UV index by NEA to decide whether or not children should go out.
Parents are worried about their children’s academic performance. Free time is scheduled with tuition and enrichment classes. The pressure is real in Singapore. The day I enrolled my daughter in her preschool, friends started asking about her primary school options. She is barely 4.
Parents are worried about risk. When it rains, they see a wet ground, and think that kids might fall. They fail to see how inviting rain can be for play. When a child takes her shoes off to roam, parents see the risk stepping onto sharp objects. They fail to understand that walking barefoot helps improve posture and strengthen feet muscles.
Would you be surprised if I say these worries are unfounded? Here is why.
First, the weather - Singapore is hot. But it is about selecting the right time and place to be out. Go out in the mornings / evenings, play where there is shade (we love trees), wear lightweight clothes and hats, stay hydrated and if you have a portable fan, bring it along!
You probably already know that children learn best through hands-on play experiences. Now, think about how much hands-on play your child is getting through the endless worksheets. Bring them out, spend time with them. If she is thrilled about bears at zoo and wants to spend the entire day at the bear’s exhibit, let her. She has found her interest and will ask questions, draw her own conclusions based on her observations. It is then, and only then, that she can practise the complex cognitive skills needed for academic success.
Finally, limiting children’s exposure to risk and preventing them from falling can impede physical development. They lose the freedom to make adaptions to their motor and balance system. We need to let our children experience gradual risk to develop important physical skills to stay safe. I often tell parents, ‘If they are in sight, they are safe’. So keep your eye on them, but give them the space they need to test their physical limits and exercise their independence.
Unfortunately, our lifestyle has lead our children to become an indoor generation. They dine at restaurants, they play at indoor playgrounds and they learn in classrooms. As parents, it is important we cultivate their love for nature. Bring them outside, let them roam and play. Pick up sticks, dig dirt for worms, smell the flowers, taste the sea water. There are just endless activities to explore.
So the next time you’re deciding where to bring your family, I hope going outdoors will be your first choice.
About Cai Lin Ng
Cai recently moved back to sunny Singapore after living in sunny Miami for several years. She is a parent to two kids (1 and 4 year old) and is also the founder of Our Backyard - a community that is on a mission to bring families and kids closer to nature.