Outdoor Play and Sustainability

The world is constantly changing, and not always for the better. Outdoor play strengthens the abilities which children will need for their futures as adults in such a world. Good physical health, self-reliance, realism and optimism, as well as less dependence on consumerism, are important attributes to be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

What does “sustainability” actually mean? According to a UN definition, sustainability means that economic and social relations and the use of resources and interventions in the natural environment are designed firstly, to meet the needs of people living now, and secondly, so that the needs of future generations can also be met.
On the first point, the needs of children living now are often ignored, for example, the rights to adequate food, education, protection against violence and even their right to play, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The second point is that the chances of meeting the needs of future generations are being severely limited by the way that resources are currently used, which is causing climate change. This is unfavorable to most regions, damages the soil needed for arable farming and is leading to the large scale extinction of wildlife and plant species. Furthermore, the world population is still increasing.
So today’s children will be living in a world where they have to be more intelligent with the resources they will have left, sharing them with many others who also want to participate in prosperity.

In a world that is changing in these challenging ways, outdoor play strengthens many of the essential skills that children will need as adults of the future, such as:

– Being physically active in outdoor play strengthens children’s physical, mental and emotional health.
– Dealing with one’s environment and being independent allows children to experience being able to achieve things for themselves. This is important to give them both a sense of reality and optimism, which enables them to know their limits and to find out how they can extend their limits.
– Outdoor free play enhances children’s creativity, as well as their freedom from the pressure to conform to social expectations of consumption. Those who are creative are able to adapt to shifting circumstances, can cope with changes and are less dependent on consumer fashion.
– While playing outdoors, children have independent, direct contact with animals, plants, soil and water in their natural environment. Having their own experiences of this kind gives children positive emotional relationships with nature and awareness of natural resources. These are the bases for developing their personal commitment to the natural environment and sustainability. Clean drinking water, healthy food and clean air are produced in the real world and not the digital world.

Cities and municipalities in which sustainability can be practiced in everyday life are small-scale. They provide space for bicycles and pedestrians, for short distances to work, for shopping, for schools and day-care centers, for a mixture of different population groups and generations, with a lot of green areas and as well as a great many opportunities for outdoor play.

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Christiane Richard-Elsner, Draußen spielen, Beltz Juventa 2017.

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