Let kids enjoy ‘risky active play’ this fall

While the end of summer may not be a time to look forward to, there are plenty of outdoor activities that kids can enjoy in the coming months. With the leaves changing from green to red, orange and gold, the outdoors provide a beautiful backdrop to enjoy the fall season.

As parents, it’s natural to worry about the dangers of letting our children play outside – we can’t help being anxious about every scrape and bruise – but outdoor play is an important part of growing up. In fact, latest research suggests that children tend to be more physically active when playing outdoors on their own.

ParticipACTION and the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario found that children “move more, sit less and play longer” when allowed to explore their surroundings on their own.

They stress the importance of allowing children to take part in “risky active play,” during which they are able to assess the challenges they face, become more resilient, and develop important skills that help them cope with problems they encounter later in life.

This doesn’t mean we should be sending our children off without necessary precautions – as parents, it is our responsibility to find the right balance between giving our kids the freedom to play and making sure they are safe.

“To facilitate healthy child development parents need to allow children to challenge themselves with their outdoor activities, and this includes taking calculated risks, and learning from such experiences,” says Professor Mark Tremblay, director of the HALO research group.

“The goal of parents and play providers should be to manage risk, not eliminate it.”

A few ways you can help your kids stay healthy this season:

Outdoor play

Encourage your children to go out on their own and seek natural environments to play in, rather than playgrounds with prefabricated structures. They should also be encouraged to explore the environment in different weather conditions. Research shows that when children are allowed to play on their own, they develop confidence, learn problem-solving skills and are better able to manage the risks and stressors in their daily lives. This type of play also allows them to develop important social connections and skills by interacting with other children and adults in their community.

Biking and skateboarding

One of the best ways for kids to explore their environment is by biking or skateboarding, and fall, with its beautiful colours and brisk weather, is the perfect season. Before starting, always make sure your child is wearing the right protective gear, including a properly fitted helmet. Helmets work by absorbing the force of impact and can decrease the risk of serious head injuries by 70 to 90 per cent.

Helmets come in various sizes and differ depending on the activity they are being used for. Always consult with a professional equipment fitter to make sure your child is wearing the right helmet.

Biking helmets are designed to protect the head against a single, high-impact crash and must be replaced after a single collision. Skateboarding helmets, on the other hand, are better suited to withstand more than one crash.

”Protecting your brain with a helmet can save your life,” says Kerri-lynn Whyte, trauma and injury prevention coordinator at CHEO. “Wearing a helmet can help absorb the impact that would otherwise cause a potential brain injury. Helmets should be worn while riding bicycles, scooters, skateboards, inline skates and roller skates.” Whyte recommends parents visit www.ottawathinkfirst.ca for information on helmet safety.

Falls and tumbles are a natural part of being a kid. By letting our children play outside, we limit the amount of time they spend sitting in front of the TV and computer. By encouraging them to go out and play, we instil healthy habits that will follow them into adulthood. Help your kids be healthier this fall by making sure they take the right precautions and are given freedom to go out and explore.

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