One of the things that we try to encourage on the farm is to create spaces where children can run around and really let their hair down. From the pedal tractors that they race around on to the outdoor adventure playarea and the new den building spaces in the woods, there is plenty to fire up the imagination and encourage children to explore the countryside at their own pace.
Research suggests that children need a combination of structured and unstructured playtime. Having read some of the research while thinking about this article has made me question what I do with my own children and I am now trying my hardest not to butt in when they are experimenting with play, even when I find my 2 year old jumping from a great height.
This is a small snippet of one report that I read “Guidelines set out by the Department of Health (2011) call for interventions to increase children’s physical activity levels, starting from birth. Early years children should be given ample opportunities for unrestricted movement (such as crawling and water-based play) to increase their physiological development and encourage bonding with others. Drawing on robust research, the report argued that levels of physical activity required in childhood to help achieve healthy weight, bone and cardiometabolic health and psychological well-being are higher than previously estimated. Unstructured play is perceived as vital to achieving this, as young children ‘need the freedom to create their own opportunities for active play, lead their own activities, direct their own play and engage in imaginary play’ (DH 2011: 22). “
It always amazes me how, despite treating children of either sex exactly the same, how boys are often drawn to the tractors and the diggers, and girls seem to have a natural affinity with petting the animals and the ponies. I have not seen any studies that can explain how these differences are born but it does lead one to think about the balance between nature and nurture.