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Go outdoors to play

Leah McLean plays during the 2017 Amherst Winter Carnival’s Outdoor Play Day. This year’s play day is Sunday, Feb. 18 from 1 to 3 p.m.
Leah McLean plays during the 2017 Amherst Winter Carnival’s Outdoor Play Day. This year’s play day is Sunday, Feb. 18 from 1 to 3 p.m. - Submitted

Community health with Colleen Dowe

Many of us remember as children being sent outside to ‘find something to do.’ Much of our play was created from imagination; games were unstructured and our environments were full of pretend perils and magic for example, the lawn became a fast moving river and rocks the only way to get across to the magical forest.

Today, children spend much more time inside and in front of screens. According to the 2016 Participaction Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, only nine per cent of Canadian children get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity they need to stay healthy. 

The report also tells us the average child between ages five and seventeen spends over eight hours a day being sedentary and only 15 per cent of children age three and four meet the screen time guidelines of less than one hour per day. 

A child’s play isn’t just fun and games - it is actually an important part of their development and along with increased physical activity, outdoor play experiences help develop new knowledge and skills such as language, math and science concepts, problem solving, movement skills, creative expression and social skills.

Play is so important to childhood development it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. 

In today’s society, we tend to try to give our children the best opportunities for success and we often mistakenly schedule a child’s day from beginning to end. Although play is often included it is typically structured play. 

Structured play is any play that is influenced or directed by someone other than the child with pre-existing rules and with a beginning and an end. Examples of structured play include organized sports and construction toys or kits with directions and puzzles. 

While structured play is important to a child’s development, it frequently overshadows the unstructured play that is just as crucial to healthy outcomes. 

Unstructured, or free play as it is often called, is open and undirected. It comes from imagination. 

Some of the many benefits children get from unstructured play include:

  • Problem solving
  • A sense of self-exploration and discovery
  • The ability to communicate feeling
  • Tolerance for differences of opinion
  • Improved communication skills
  • Increased confidence and self-esteem
  • A feeling of freedom and control

Unstructured play allows children to learn about themselves and it allows them to make mistakes without feeling pressure.  

Participaction developed a national position statement on Active Outdoor Play. It said “access to active play in nature and outdoors - with its risks - is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings - at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.”

The Cumberland County Community Health Boards believe unstructured outdoor play is imperative to a child’s mental and physical wellbeing. They work together with an Outdoor Play committee to encourage more unstructured outdoor play opportunities for children and youth.   The committee is made up of representatives from: the Municipality of Cumberland County, the Town of Amherst, the Town of Oxford, Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre, and Chignecto Central Regional School Board.

The SOAR Community Health Board, along with Maggie’s Place Family Resource Centre and Beans & Cocoa Toys and Gifts, will be hosting an Outdoor Play Day Sunday, Feb. 18 from 1 to 3 p.m. as part of the Fourth Annual Amherst Winter Carnival and everyone is welcome.

All three of our community health boards are currently looking for new members.

Bill Schurman and Linda Cloney, SOAR Co-chairs

Terri Ashley and Trudy Weir, SPAR Co-chairs

Joyce Gray, Pugwash and Area Chair

For more information about the boards or to learn how you can become a member please contact Colleen Dowe at 902-397-0376 or

Colleen Dowe is the coordinator of Cumberland County’s community health boards.

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