Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
December 07, 2004
Playing in ‘wild places’ vital for children, researchers say
Well-meaning safety concerns — as well as TV and video games — are keeping kids sedentary, indoors and away from the places their parents recall as the highlights of their own childhoods. But that may also restrict their appreciation, familiarity and enjoyment of natural environments, say University of Guelph landscape architecture researchers.
Prof. Nate Perkins, of the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, believes wild places – hedgerows, woodlots and streams, to name a few — develop children’s imaginations in ways that structured and programmed play areas never can.
“I understand why parents may be afraid of the risks occurring outside of the home. But what they don’t recognize is that wild places can have many health benefits for their children,” he said.
Perkins and former graduate student Sarah McCans are looking into how wild places can be preserved for children’s play. They’re also taking a closer look at the availability of wild places, how many children use these spaces and ways to increase parents’ awareness of the benefits such places may hold for their children.
Perkins thinks the concerns he’s heard about wild places should be put in perspective. For example, he’s found that the No. 1 safety hazard in North American schools is actually the asphalt around schools. But natural areas in communities continue to decline because of safety concerns, while asphalt remains.
Surfaces aside, Perkins believes unstructured outdoor play is crucial to a child’s physical, psychological and social development. In particular, he says the outdoors can provide inspiration for more creative thinking. Children from rural and suburban areas, who generally spend more time outdoors, have more highly developed imaginations.
“Kids know more about rainforest ecology in Brazil than what’s going on in their own backyards,” said Perkins. “They have more environmental knowledge, but they don’t experience nearby nature and consequently they may not have the deep personal connections to the natural world that their parents may have.” This research was funded in part by the Environmental Design Research Association.