THE UNSAFE CHILD: Less Outdoor Play is Causing More Harm than Good

About the Author

Angela Hanscom is a pediatric occupational therapist and the founder of TimberNook, which focuses on nature-centered developmental programming in New England. Angela holds a master’s degree in occupational therapy and an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology (the study of movement) with a concentration in health fitness. She specializes in vestibular (balance) treatment and sensory integration. She is also the author of the upcoming nonfiction book, Balanced & Barefoot, which discusses the effects of restricted movement and lack of outdoor playtime on overall sensory development in children.

The third grade classroom that was visiting our nature center for the day consisted of mostly boys–rowdy, loud and rambunctious boys. As we started out into the woods, the children spoke loudly to each other in anticipation of what was to come. After playing a quick game and explaining the ground rules, it was time for free play. As soon as the children realized they had the freedom to explore and build in the woods, something funny happened – they got really quiet. They dispersed and many of them started working together to build a large teepee.

Nothing gives me more pleasure then to see children contentedly building a structure using branches and logs out in the woodland. That is, until fear kicked in and everyone’s pulse increased a few notches at the shrill cry of alarm.

“Put the sticks DOWN!” I looked over to see a chaperone running frantically towards the children. “Danger! Danger!” she screamed. Momentarily astonished by the sudden state of perceived emergency, I finally found my voice. “It’s okay,” I yelled over to her. “I said they could use the sticks as long as they respect each other’s personal space.” Speechless, the chaperone frowned, turned and walked to a group of nearby chaperones. I could have stopped the kids from building at this point, given into the fear and encouraged them to do something that our society would consider a little less risky. However, I decided to let the kids proceed with their project.

The children, with the help of a few excited adults, proceeded to build a massive stick teepee. “Look at what we built!” one of the boys said proudly, showing off their work. “Can you believe it?” another child asked excitedly.

During this time of construction, ironically, no child got hurt–not even a scratch. This is rare. Children usually get some bumps and bruises while playing in the woods. Getting scrapes, bruises, and even scars was like a rite of passage when I was growing up. No cuts, no scrapes, nothing on this day.

It was as if Mother Nature herself was trying to prove the fearful chaperone wrong, to show that children are capable of more then we often allow.

As a parent of two girls, on some level, I can empathize with that chaperone’s fear. Parental instincts often naturally take over and we shout, “be careful” or “slow down” as we watch a child manipulate their natural environment. This is fairly normal and common. However, as a pediatric occupational therapist that spends countless hours observing children play in a natural environment, I also know that restricting children’s movement and limiting their ability to play outdoors can cause more harm than good.

As we continue to decrease children’s time and space to move and play outdoors, we are seeing a simultaneous rise in the number of children that are presenting with sensory deficits. The number of children that now need occupational therapy services to treat their sensory systems is on the rise. According to the New York Times, New York City public schools have seen a 30 percent increase in the number of students being referred to occupational therapy in the past four years. And they aren’t the only city seeing the surge of children in need of services. Chicago is up 20 percent in the past three years and Los Angeles jumped to a whopping 30 percent increase in the past five years.

Secondary to restricted movement and less time outdoors on a regular basis, more and more children are walking around with underdeveloped vestibular (balance) systems. In other words, they have decreased body awareness and sense of space. Teachers are reporting that children are falling out of their seats in school, running into one another, pushing with more force during games of tag, and are generally clumsier than in years past. In fact, the more we restrict and coddle our children, the more unsafe they become.

A child’s neurological system is naturally designed to seek out the sensory input it needs in order to develop into a strong and capable individual. For instance, if a child starts jumping off small rocks, that is because their brain is ready for this type of activity. If a child is spinning in circles just for fun, it is because he or she needs that sensory input. If they climb a tree effortlessly, it means they are capable of doing so.

It is only when adults consistently step in and say, “no” to everything physical the child attempts that we start to see problems in development. “No climbing,” “no running,” “no playing tag,” “no spinning,” “no picking up sticks,” “no getting dirty,” “no jumping off the rocks,” “no climbing the rocks,” we yell when children attempt any kind of risk.

We care about our children so much. We are just trying to protect them. However, sometimes too much protection can cause more harm than good. We are keeping them from attaining the very sensory input they need in order to grow into resilient and able-bodied people. They need to climb, jump, run through the woods, pick up sticks, jump in mud puddles, and fall and get hurt on occasion. These are all natural and necessary experiences that will help develop a healthy sensory system–foundational to learning and accomplishing many of life’s goals.

Three Examples of How Play Outdoors can be Therapeutic:

  1. Sledding: If you are lucky enough to have snow, sledding is a great sensory activity, especially if you frequently change positions on the sled. For example, if children go down the hill on their bellies, keeping their head and legs up in a superman position, this activates the vestibular (balance) system and improves body awareness over time. Flying saucers send children around and around, helping to establish a good sense of space.
  2. Walking barefoot in the woods: Walking barefoot on uneven terrain helps to challenge and strengthen the muscles in the ankles and develop the arches of the feet. It also helps to develop a reflex in the foot that helps prevent toe-walking. The sensations of dirt, sticks, and leaves on the bottom of the feet develop healthy touch senses and furthermore, assist with preventing sensory defensiveness on this part of the body. Running through the woods teaches children to effectively and efficiently navigate their environment, while challenging their balance at the same time.
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  3. Rolling down a grassy hill: Rolling down the hill helps to provide necessary deep pressure to the muscles and ligaments – improving the proprioceptive sense. This sense is fundamental in helping children accurately regulate how much force to use when playing games like tag, coloring with crayons without breaking them, and holding a baby chick without squeezing too hard. Also, as the child rolls, they are spinning, which helps to develop a strong vestibular (balance) system.

Playing outdoors is naturally a wonderful sensory experience for children. However, just once-a-week excursions are not enough in order to develop a healthy sensory system. Just like exercising on occasion doesn’t gain lasting benefits, children need to move and play on a frequent and regular basis in order to reap the sensory advantages of the outdoors. They also need to be surrounded by adults who support not only regular outdoor play, but also encourage healthy risk-taking. Their sensory system depends on it.

Photos courtesy of Timbernook

Additional Reading and Resources


THE RIGHT TO WALK IN THE WOODS: Children’s connection to the natural world should be considered a human right

NATURE IS THE ULTIMATE SENSORY EXPERIENCE: A Pediatric Occupational Therapist Makes the Case for Nature Therapy



  1. Lisa

    I so appreciate this perspective. During my years of teaching, I felt compelled to prevent children from engaging in physical play at recess due to the school’s concerns about liability. Ironically, kids were already on playgrounds that had been padded to the hilt, meaning that the kids had no need to pay attention to what they were doing. Most injuries happened because of carelessness. I’d much rather kids have an authentic play experience where they have to actually focus on what they’re doing. I will be raising my own kids in a very different way than what our education system currently allows.

    • christina davis

      Great article and I concur after having raised 5 children and caring for many others, and teaching young children that this is huge. It’d be great to see you address the psychological benefits that also go along with natural outdoor exploration and play. Confidence, lowered anxiety, problem solving skills…They are also very important.

    • Jennifer Steele

      Well said! As a teacher I agree….and the fear to take risks carries to the classroom as well. A wise man once said that it is from failure and mistakes that true learning takes place….

    • Susan Komczyk

      I’m so glad I read this. I know I’m too cautious with my grandchildren and I struggle with that all the time. It’s seems that everthing they I can see a disastrous out come. It’s not only bad for them, but drives my poor daughter crazy. Maybe it comes from having lived long enough who actually know kids who have lost an eye by playing with sticks, I’ve seen kids break bones, fall off of tractor wagons and die. I can’t unknow that. Maybe that’s why grandparents are such nervous Nellies.
      I know I’m wrong to be such a worry wort, but I don’t how to change.

      • Kelly Lee

        Hey, you mentioned seeing kids get hurt from taking risks, and I wanted to share an experience I had. I allowed my rough and tumble boy to take those risks, and my belief was that he would have a natural inhibition, that he generally wouldn’t try something that was too much for him, in terms of jumping, climbing, etc. When he was 4, he loved to jump off the steps of the stage at our church. He would jump and roll into a somersault. I felt like the jumps were a little high and the impact a little hard, but I let him do it. One night, he woke up screaming; he touched his shoulder area and said that it hurt. I thought he must have “slept wrong”. But he really wanted me to call a doctor; he said he thought his bone was “cracked”. Long story short, it turned out he had seriously fractured his clavicle! In the months of healing and doctor visits that followed, I shared my philosophy about trusting him to have a natural inhibition with the bone doctor. He told me I shouldn’t go with that theory anymore. 🙂 So I am sure there is quite a spectrum among children, as far as how risky they may be, and quite a spectrum among adults, as far as how much risk-taking they will allow. But some children may need more limits to keep them from doing things that are truly risky. Just for clarification, my son doesn’t act foolhardy or thoughtlessly in general, but I do curb his behavior, particularly in the area of climbing and jumping from high places. He still gets plenty of scrapes and bruises (as do I!) from taking risks.

        • Teresa Wilson

          This made me laugh as I remembered my daughter’s friend Brian. He was a spectacular young man, full of happiness and ability and kindness.
          When they were approaching 16, he decided to try a trick he has seen in the movies where the threw himself in front of a moving vehicle, rolled across the windshield, and kept running on the other side.
          It might work in movies, but he managed to shatter my windshield and also break his shoulder. He wouldn’t tell his parents because he realized just how dumb the move had been (my heart stopped. I was the one driving the van)
          He healed, he became even more loving and amazing.
          Then one day he found out he had cancer. He died 3 months after his 21st birthday.
          I am so glad to have all the memories of him climbing trees and jumping out of them, having flour fights (inside my house), shooting off rockets, snowboarding off the roof and other rowdy behavior. I wouldn’t trade any of those heart stopping moments. We never know what will happen next.

        • Jan Cameron

          Sorry to hear about your sons accident and perhaps it was the fact that he was jumping down concrete steps that might be the problem . I hope you will still let him play in a more natural environment. I worked for many years with boys in a school for emotionally disturbed children and we had natural playgrounds that the boys were allowed to build themselves, tree house, river walks etc, and don’t remember a single serious accident , although it all looked dangerous! In a natural setting which can often look dangerous children seem somehow better able to judge. I also spent some years working in playgrounds and discovered that statistical adventure playgrounds ( often built but the kids, high death slides, scramble nets etc ) are much safer that conventional playgrounds ( swings, roundabouts, metal slides etc. )

        • Christa

          There is a well-researched school of thought regarding the neuro-sensitivity of children. Many children (and adults, it isn’t something you grow out of) are “highly sensitive,” meaning they are more careful, more aware of natural consequences, more aware of the minute changes in an environment or person’s behavior that might trigger a change or cause alarm. The other end of this spectrum are those who are typically diagnosed as Aspergers. They concentrate exclusively on a very specific topic or activity, to the point that they are not aware of their surroundings or any dangers that might be present. They typically cannot distinguish or interpret minute changes in a person’s expressions or body language, therefore, not noticing when an activity is hurting, annoying or pleasing another. Most children (some studies say 80%) fall into a middle ground. The “hunters” of an acient hunter-gatherer society. They may see some risk, but they go do it anyway. They recognize risk a step or two ahead, but not 5+ steps ahead like the highly sensitive. They recognize minute changes in their environment or in the behavior of those around them, but may not change their behavior unless that escalates, and even then they may continue, determining that their choice outweighs the potential danger. Whereas the highly sensitive children may stop prematurely because they might get hurt or might hurt someone’s feelings or cause harm.
          All that said, though these are innate attributes, children do still need parents to teach them when the step is too high, the water is too deep, the taking of something will hurt another’s feelings, etc. Or, on the flip side, that it’s okay to fall, get a scrape or stand up for yourself even if it hurts someone’s feelings. They may be born with, and develop, a certain natural sensitivity to danger, but they need guidance, especially when very young. And parents need to understand that each child will have a differing amount of this awareness.

      • Carla Hall

        Susan Komczyk, My own kids were muddy and tromped by themselves to the nearby small river through scrub that had snakes and stickers but I, too, am more careful with my grandkids. I don’t want them hurt on my watch. I generally follow their parents’ lead though in a few instances I’ve led. I gave them ‘sharp’ kitchen knives for food prep, (they drew their first blood as chef’s under my watch and were proud of it). My husband and I try to be brave as we ask the kids to do braver things with us… within reason? I empathize with your struggle!

      • Renee

        Actually, it’s usually the Grandparents who are so much more flexible with these kind of safety rules. It’s the young women who think they have to monitor every movement, every word and correct every thought. I read ‘Bringing Up Be Be’ and spent the first half of the book yelling, “There’s nothing FRENCH about that…that’s just common sense,” until I caught on that it was written by a younger woman about herself and her friends. Talk about a smothered hot-house plant!!! I feel so sorry for some of today’s kids. They don’t have the where-with-all to tell their parents to BUZZ OFF….LEAVE ME ALONE!!!

  2. Nadine Champsi

    Love this article! Wondering if we might be able to put it up on a publication for Pittsburgh families called Kidsburgh with a link back to your website and appropriate credits? Please email me at if interested. Thanks!

  3. Eleanor Mangion

    What were the ground rules?

    • Rebecca

      Ground rules ? How about PLAY ! Use your imagination !!! Rules and rules and more rules are what is killing America. The Government wants to make more and more rules and people are turning into zombies. THIS leads right to the stumbling bumbling and falling out of chairs part of the article. The teacher told them to begin to respect the other kids’ space… What other rules do they need ? If parents had taught their children HOW to play in the first place… even THAT ONE “rule” would not have been necessary. My son KNEW not to hit another kid with ANYTHING… period.. I was a parent and I knew HOW to PARENT … Do YOUR job and stop leaving it up to teachers to Parent and make rules.

  4. Anonymous

    I love this article. As a preschool teacher and mother I have seen the effect of open, child-directed outside play. Thank you!

  5. Vickie

    Your articles are right on target! I am an elementary school guidance counselor, and I have no doubt free outdoor play would result in happier children.

  6. Sandee

    Angela, as a fellow occupational therapist who is very concerned about sensory deprivation, lack of free play experiences and increased over-structured activities (including excessive amounts of homework), I am so grateful to see your refreshing information. Hopefully more OTs will see this as a critical area of advocacy and intervention. Keep up the good work!

  7. Lourdes

    I just spent today hiking with my five year old and one year old grandsons. We hiked. Climbed rocks sat in the water of s river and enjoyed a waterfall. My 5 year old was only warned once yo be careful with the point of his makeshift walking stick while he hopped from one rock to another with his aunt. I sat on a rock watching my little one try to balance as he just started walking last week. He sat picked up rocks , dirt and sticks …inspecting each one carefully then washing them in the water splashing , kicking and enjoying the icy water.
    I am a retired occupational therapist and was in awe of all the sensory input they and we adults were enjoying. I have always brought up my daughters to explore and to be fearless. I am proud that my grandchildren are being
    raised with this same attitude. They are both well adjusted, bright, confident and loving boys.

  8. Matt Whitehead


    Thank you for the article, I hope every adult in the world gets the opportunity to read it – what good it would do our kids! These are conversations I have with parents daily in my clinic where I see kids and adults with chronic pain, injuries, and physical limitations. I see kids who have chronic headaches, balance issues, physical developmental issues, back pain, knee pain, and many other issues. Most parents have already taken their children to many doctors and specialists and have not found an answer or are unhappy with the diagnosis/treatments. Most of these kids suffer from “lack of play and movement” not some big scary disease.

    Most kids lack the necessary free play, creative movement, and instinctual exercise that helps them develop a healthy musculoskeletal system for life. From birth, they are put in car seats, play pens, bouncy seats, strollers, and other devices that do not allow them to wiggle and move. Parents are scared into only letting their babies sleep on there backs and infants are not developing the extensor strength necessary for normal development. Babies are propped up in sitting positions and held in standing positions way too early and too often and miss out on the strength that wiggling, rolling, and crawling give them – strength that is essential to stand, balance, run, and jump for the rest of their lives.

    On top of limiting normal development, we restrict their free play (especially outdoors) as you mention because we are trying to “protect our children from danger” but end up limiting their motion, physical expression, and creative movement that is essential to normal physical, mental, and emotional development.

    Parents who bring their children in to see me learn that reintroducing crawling, floor play, and outdoor free play are keys in helping their 2, 5, 8, or 12 year old lose the headaches, back pain, or knee pain, and restore normal foot, knee, hip, spine, and shoulder posture and movement. Balance improves, agility returns, happiness is increased, and school behavior and performance improves.

    Thanks for sharing this article and I will share it with my clients, colleagues, and on my blog.

    • renee pearman

      As I remember, there’s a link between plenty of crawling and the ability to read.

  9. Lisa

    Loved and agree with the article. I have been a supporter of this and our neighbors think I should be watching my children more closely, but somehow, my 7 yo son still has an under developed vestibular system and poor proprioception. He is getting ot for both. It seems like there are more factors involved.

    • Elly

      I agree, my son is proprioceptive seeking even though he spends literally all day most days playing in our rather large yard, mainly unsupervised. There must be other factors contributing to SPDs

    • Katie

      Yes, there are more factors. More kids these days have autism and ADHD, and sensory issues are very common with both. SPD is well known in the world of autism. The increase in SPD we’re seeing is really in the otherwise neuro-typical population.

  10. KMock

    Working in a profession that programs for children, I absolutely believe in outdoor unstructured play. Watching children navigate the natural world at their pace, with their imaginations, with their own sense of self, is incredible. An example, one program I have is structured, only by the types of activities we do through the day, each project, etc. was up to the imagination of the child. I had one child break down in tears, because he wasn’t being told exactly what to do, step-by-step on a craft project. The child was terrified to have to come up with something on his own, because it might not be done exactly right. I didn’t give in, I gave him a few simple ideas to work from, and within 10 minutes he was happily working away, making his own project from his own imagination. The resilient mind! Kids need this openness to grow and problem solve, not to be led through the world like drones.

  11. Patricia Dorsey

    I’ve known this fact for a long time. Playing outside, or even just running for 5 minutes outside of my classroom, was a reward most days. So many parents are simply scared to let their children out of their houses these days! I understand if the family lives in some parts of the inner city, of course. But not in the suburbs where I’ve taught. I’m going to share this article on my blog for other teachers to see. Thank you.

  12. Liz Ryan Cole

    I grew up in the Adirondacks in the l950’s and raised four sons now 26-40 years old in CA, CT and VT. Play in nature is essential. Now my husband and I are also are part owners (in addition to our day jobs) of a 100 year old cabin based hospitality business on a pond in NH. Our guests come back again and again because (in part) their kids can play outside, swim and boat and hike while being supervised from a safe distance. It is so sad to see them unhappy about their return to urban areas where they don’t see the opportunities for their kids that they enjoy in Lyme. But we can’t all live in the country. We can, however, cluster our homes to provide for open play space and create community so we can help each other protect our kids while they get the play in nature they deserve.

  13. natalia roque

    great piece, also absolutely relates to childhood obesity due to lack of physical activity and letting electronics entertain and babysit because it is just easier for the adult, I don’t have kids but my thoughts are if you don’t have the time and energy or want to be a real parent be involved, play just don’t bother having kids it’s not fair to them the tv Xbox and iPad are not the answer, go out and play, if weathers bad, read do something.

  14. Anita

    This is such a brilliant post. I couldn’t agree more. I recently launched an outdoor kids active party business in Melbourne as our kids just don’t have the outdoor fun that we used to have as kids. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Louise Fleming-Dufala

    Thank you, Angela! As a child who grew up wandering nature, watching honey bees in the clover, and playing with sticks, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I had no idea of the physical ramifications that our society’s fear of fear is having on children. I do know that children (and young adults) are becoming afraid of what they should love. With my own children, I always differentiated between caution and fear. Now I’m encouraging my granddaughter to put on her boots and go play in the mud!

    • Michelle Brown

      You should have her take off her boots to play in the mud…squishing the mud between her toes, feeling for rocks, toys, etc… really is a wonderful sensory experience for them…it is my granddaughters favorite thing in the world….jumping in mud puddles….getting dirty from head to toe….I always know when she is through playing in the puddle because her last action is to lay in it…lol . she is a happy happy girl when covered in mud!

  16. Anna Schledon

    I am from Germany. Part of my job as a social worker here is to let children take part in the planning of playgrounds. Those playgrounds than always turn out to be a lot more natural than those in the U.S. With water and sand for mud games, rocks for climbing, wooden play structures and lots of bushes.
    By the way here in Bavaria we give our kids a pocket knife when they turn 4 and teach them how to use it so they can play nicely in the nature. Never heard that a child got seriously insured because of this. My kids love carving and playing outside every day….

  17. Ken Bardonner

    Thank you.

  18. Rebecca Walker

    I totally agree with this article, children should be allowed the freedom of play in natural surroundings, without adult intervention. Let them be imaginative, create their own fun and let them take risks – it’s what childhood is all about! I spent many a time outside all day with my younger siblings, I acquired many bumps and bruises, I took risks that so many children aren’t allowed to these days – and hey, I’m still alive!

    I have an 11 year old son and we live in the country, I love being able to step out of my door and access hills, trails, lakes, woodlands etc and for my son to be able to create his own fun in such beautiful surroundings, I hate that so many children are cooped up indoors playing on computers games or being ‘social’ online with their friends, I feel that parents have an important role in educating their children about the importance of play and being outdoors – our future generations are at such risk of not only obesity and social exclusion but also of missing out on life’s most important adventures – play!

  19. Paul Kellagher

    Great to see common sense exists. As a qualified Mountaineering instructor and Social Worker my own kids spend a lot of time moving. They learned to walk on rough ground. I was recently astonished at how Imobile my sons 9 year old class mates were on his birthday party- at the local climbing wall. Anything beyond walking was challenging. As a social work manager I see all sorts of preventable conditions in children. A lot are related to sheer boredom. Excellent article

  20. Linda Korngold

    Thanks for the very important reminders. Educational lawmakers, pay attention! There are some important lessons to be learned from the past. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!

  21. Deanna

    This is a great article. I think that being outdoors is so important for children and needs to be encouraged as much as possible for development. However, I don’t think it is the main reason for the increase of sensory processing disorders. What I think is the biggest cause are the vaccine requirements that have increased significantly over the past years and affected children at the cellular level and therefore disrupting, blocking, or over stimulating crucial processing for interacting efficiently with and adapting to their world.

  22. Tony

    Great article. As a father of three boys under five, I see a huge difference in our boys compared to so many their ages. We live in a rural area and most of the their time is spent outdoors, wearing at most a diaper for the young ones or just shorts. They get filthy everyday and one of them will get a scratch, a stubbed toe, etc.
    I see their motor and sensory skills compared to other boys their age and the difference is very noticeable. Of course, we jokingly say its due to mom and dad’s superior genetics, but we know better – its all about getting them outside!!!!!! They are touching, feeling, (often times tasting!), jumping on, jumping in, throwing, etc. everything around them. With the busy schedules people have, it can be hard to get this exposure, but I hope all parents can make the time to get into nature with their little ones.

    • John

      And Tony I’ll bet your boys are extremely healthy with an excellent immune system too! So many young people today have so many allergies and I attribute that to not getting outside and dirty when they were kids. It is a proven fact that bacteria can impede allergies. Heck, street kids in the Philippines, Egypt, Thailand, India, etc., etc. are probably healthier than typical American kids because they’re outside getting dirty everyday. More kids in this country need to get outside and play like your 3 boys do and it might even help for them to go barefoot too!

  23. Nicole

    This is exactly why I have my two boys (5 and &) in an outdoor school. No classroom, no walls, no fluorescent lights, no artificial air, no germ-filled surfaces…

  24. Mel

    I do believe a lot is lost in not allowing kids to be hands-on. Yes, there are limits. Some things really are too dangerous to play with. But OTOH, children learn by doing…and they learn about their world by experiencing, not reading about actual life on the internet. 😉 JMO.

  25. Ruth Garlick

    I enjoyed reading your story and then being reminded of the evidence and implications of children not being given opportunities for active risky play. I often cite the risk benefits over risk concerns when I work with early childhood teachers. We are risk averse in Austalia but I can see more awareness of how to help children manage risk and at the same time ignite all eight senses. I’m preparing a workshop about transitioning children to school and the need to continue a connection to nature which hopefully they’ve enjoyed in their prior to school service. Your article will come in very handy so thank you.

    • steve

      As to being risk averse in Australia – that depends entirely which schooling system you are in. state system, yes, Steiner/Waldorf no (and aome other independent school systems

  26. Danny Myers

    Well, your article is on point! It’s no doubt that free outdoor play will make the children learn and observe many things. Stick in their room might turn them to a shy boy/girl. Experience the real things is always better than sitting one place and knowing everything via TV.

  27. Lori McLane

    More people would pay better attention to your thoughtful and instructive articles if you used the word balance instead of vestibular and other “jargon” that took you years to understand. The people who really need this information regular folks who understand balance and other simple word. You used another word, that I don’t want to scroll
    all the way back to find, that you also defined in parentheses for us “I am “laymen”. This may seem picky on my part, but most people really do understand the words heart attack more than understand myocardial infarction. This seems an unfortunate division of class between the “educated “and “uneducated “population.

  28. Hamilton McNicol

    Hi Angela, I’m curious to know if you can point to any research about the connections between risk aversion and anxiety. I’m interested to know the level of connection at whatever age, but particularly the affect in the adolescent as they transition out of the care of parents. I am developing some rites of passage experiences that require a high-degree of perceived risk, and even discomfort and pain. While I have done lots of reading that backs this up, I am yet to find studies that show objectively that exposure to risk increases the threshold of coping, resilience, confidence, etc. Thanks

  29. Peter Nicholls

    We humans are part of, not above, nature. Whenever we get back to nature, it’s like we are going home to nature’s family. In this context, denying children the right to enjoy being outdoors in nature is like denying them an essential form of family life.

  30. Bob

    This is an excellent read… Thank You!
    This why I would love to send my child to the Aurora Waldorf School.

    Their students go outside every day, in every kind of weather, to play and romp and sled and skip. This outdoor time is precious, and has always been part of the Waldorf curriculum. They believe – and science now confirms – that free play, in rain or shine, is essential to good health and balanced brain development. However, it also connects children deeply to the world in which they live, helping them become not only better students but also more responsible global stewards.

    If only I good use my public school tax dollars to pay for the Waldorf School tuition.

  31. Payton

    my kids are alone at the creek by our house now, playing without adult supervision. The ground rules are that no child is to go by themselves or get left behind. There are other children in the street where this is their play area too. I cannot see them but can call from my front door. My two are 7 and 8. The neighbourhood kids are around the same age – ranging from age 5-10. They make leave boats to float down (its only ankle to calf deep with banks and trees) dams, bridges, shelters at the side along the banks.
    Suppose New Zealand is less restrictive. Oh and a paramedic’s daughter as well as a policemans son also play there.

  32. Florencia Malvido

    Great article! It seems almost obvious but unfortunately so many parents and even teachers are unaware of the importance of free play and contact with nature. I found your article while researching the importance of outdoor play. I’m working on a dissertation about creating appropriate outdoor play areas in inner-city schools. Most of the schools in so many places (I’m in Madrid, Spain) have very small, enclosed, paved schoolyards, and I’m looking for ways to improve these settings as much as possible within the obvious limitations. No possibility here and in many schools of transforming these outdoor spaces into green areas. Do you have any suggestions of articles, books that I can research and read for this project? I’m looking forward to reading you book. Thank you.

  33. Suzanne

    Instead of yelling “danger, danger” like a person in the cut of “Lost in Space” why not just say, “be careful with those sticks?” I raise 4 kids all allowed to play outside, go camping with me, explore, hike and have fun. They are all now responsible adults who all allow their kids to be outdoors, go camping hiking and exploring. The adults are more frightened than kids.

  34. Kym

    I find some of these a lil off (perhaps it’s just because my children inherited the klutz gene), but my boys were always outside playing, one of them is now 15 and still walks on his tippy toes. my oldest is 20 and youngest is 4… I always say be careful and such to her(my youngest and only girl)…. but she still gets her bumps and bruises (lots of them). Kinda scared someone will say I abuse her *rolls eyes*, I am totally a helicopter parent with her. But only to a point. I Just dont trust people… but that child of mine is outside as much as insanely possible. I seriously think people need to have their kids outside more and let them be kids… they learn more that way too… but thats just my opinion.

  35. Julie

    I appreciate this prospective as well. However, its our suing society that makes people in general so cautious about what can and cannot be tried. We have had people sue schools when their kids get hurt on playgrounds during school hours, for doing something like climbing a jungle gym. Yes, parents in general have become helicopter parents and don’t “allow” their children to “experience” true childhood, ups and downs. Its so sad.

  36. Tony B

    I can just imagine that ‘chaperone’ shouting ‘Danger, Danger!” how flipping CRAZY. But hey surprised?

    Not really,

    Step back 2 generations, … Our sensory input was a natural occurrence, after school was out on our bikes in the park, playing football in the streets. Weekends were golden with a trip to the ‘wherever’, exploring. Riding to Harlestone Firs in my day! (Northampton UK)

    I’d say that the very demographics of society have encouraged a complacency of understanding and appreciation of our outdoor surroundings.

    Love the fact that all the kids also came away unscathed too :o)

    It was a great read indeed Angela.

  37. M. RaindancerStahl

    When I was about 5, I wanted to progress from a tricycle to a bicycle. My father refused, saying I had to wait two years until my younger brother was old enough. In those two years, I grew fearful of falling, and my sense of balance didn’t develop. In spite of my parents’ efforts to knock the fear out of me, I still don’t ride.

  38. Amanda

    Thank you for this. There seems to be an unnecessary amount of fear amongst first-world parents in recent years. Hopefully these fears will pass and our children can have the childhood they deserve and grow into adults who deeply appreciate their natural world and all its offerings.

  39. Emily Frank, OT

    I love this! I love that, as an Occupational Therapist, YOU are doing this! I’ve worked outside with my Special Ed students for almost a dozen years. It has been my best therapy. The changes are remarkable.

  40. Judith Waite Allee

    Small family size has contributed to the constant hovering. Parents used to get over that by the 3rd or 4th child. The larger families set the bar.

  41. Crystal

    I understand the need to do crazy things but they need to be within reason. I do not need a child killed or severely injured and disabled. What about indoors? It is hell trying to keep my 4 yr old from running through the trailer and not jumping on furniture. They need to learn that isn’t what furniture is for. My aunt allowed my oldest, just before her 3rd bday to jump on her bed and my daughter wound up with a fractured arm

  42. Leah Jacob

    Learning is not passive.
    I worked as a play therapist in the late 70’s with Dr. Rachel Pinney and Dr. Vivien Abbott at the Creative Listening Center in North York, Toronto at the Creative Listening Centre. Active listening meant children had hours of self directed play, while we actively listened and participated when we were directed to do so, provided non- judgmental recapping, and created a safe environment for the child, only when danger to the child or others damage to the environment was imminent. The children ranged from 21/2 to 16. The underlying mode of interaction with other children was agreement. The “hour” was the child’s time for discovery, and many options for play were provided. Joint play time evolved with other children by agreement. The listening could extend into the community. There were large activity spaces and smaller ones, art and other activities: cooking, small toy room where they could create a world view. This style of learning brought quick and lasting changes in feelings of self worth and capcity for self direction and choice. Children who were passive soon became self determined and reliant. This became the basis of my workshops. In my opinion our schools systems damp down the potential for learning, only because it doesn’t have much to do with the real world and more to do with learning how to stay in line, find out what society thinks, which is full of conflict and half thoughts. We need to open our minds to the underlying truth, complexity and harmony in nature, to discover who we really are. We did not evolve without it, why pretend we should? We don’t need to make our children behave or think like us. We should not be products of society, which carries all the conflicts of the past. We need to let our children succeed and explore without our direction. When starting out at the center, one had to learn to stand back and trust the child, to know what they needed to heal. This was the test as to whether you as an adult could be of benefit to the work. The patterns we carry had to be shut down continually, to make room for the growth of the child. In that way we the adults were also freed up.
    The question is do we want to repattern the past or create something new?
    When I stopped working at the center I moved directly into exploring creativity. I worked in many materials, even made costumes from junk. When I worked in classrooms I wanted the kids to be in a state of review and critique with these materials they automatically integrated in their lives. We need to chose the themes of our lives. The basics are important but children actually want to read, learning is not automatic or a case of downloading. In my experience, we don’t really learn till we hit Master level classes, where our thinking moves in and out of topics like bubbles in water. How can we see through the material when we are directed what to see? We are not just observers in our history. What about using all our capabilities: our emotions, intelect our bodies all together? How about discussing things in groups and developing perspective with other while we are learning? By being active we are alive and our brains and bodies are developing together.

  43. Tina Hayes

    I think this is a wonderful article and encompasses everything a free spirited child should experience. I have a 7 year old who loves nothing better than spending her days cartwheeling ,running around barefoot and seeing how how she can climb a tree. I believe you are better off teaching a child to do an activity safely than to stop then doing it at all

  44. Lisa

    Wow! Lucky you! Do you actually get paid for taking kids outside to play in the woods?

  45. Sarah

    It was interesting how quickly my older child overcame his diagnosis of SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) after we moved out of our tiny apartment into a house with a yard in a neighborhood that allowed him the freedom to roam and play outdoors independently. That, in conjunction with removal of screens from our home, a two week camping vacation to the coast, and I have a changed kid. He’s grown into an independent, adventurous 9 year old who’s new favorite after school activity is taking his 4 year old sister to the park area behind our house to play until supper every day, rain or shine. Where he used to have issues with gross motor and balance, there are none.

    I will admit, in his younger years I was a hovering helicopter mom. What happened? A new man in my life who encouraged me to allow the boy a little more freedom at a time, until I realized I wasn’t doing my son any favors with my constant “be carefuls” and “don’t do that’s”.

  46. Kate Mattson

    Wonderful article! I do have a question. If a child has not been exposed to much outdoor play and nature, up to late elementary years, could the damaged be reversed if the child is now allowed outdoor play? What does it take to correct the problems of not being allowed proper outdoor play? Thank you for the amazing work you do!


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