With summer here, parents are switching gears – from early bedtimes to twilight ice creams, snowsuits to sunscreen, school lunches to camp lunches (always nut-free). The season of kicking back and smelling the BBQ is here.

If your summer requires an Excel spreadsheet to know who is going where and when, what weekends you still have free, and how you’re going to fit it all in…. have you stopped to think about when you are going to simply let your kids play?

power of play

The Benefits of Play

The Power of Play is nothing new. Research shows that active play is directly linked to improved health in kids. And kids want to play: left to their own devices, children launch into imaginary games on their own – inventing characters, stories and play. When they get together with their friends they instinctively organize themselves; play is so essential to growth and development that the United Nations recognizes it as a fundamental human right.

Play has a positive effect on childhood development. There is a strong correlation between creative play, language skills, and cognitive development. Through play, children experiment, problem-solve, develop creativity, learn to collaborate and develop self-esteem, autonomy and confidence. Outdoor play offers even more benefits, and exercise is fundamental for our health. And yet, for the last 50 years, play has been declining. We put our kids in front of screens and don’t throw open our front doors and tell them to explore. We are scared of something happening to them – so we drive them five blocks to their friend’s houses, instead of letting them walk or ride their bike.

power of play

Not only is play important – movement is essential for our kids’ health and development. In ParticipAction’s 2018 annual report on the state of physical fitness, Canadian kids once again scored a D minus: less than 35 percent of kids aged 5 to 17 getting the recommended amount of exercise of sixty minutes daily. This not only has a negative effect on cardiovascular health, sleep and weight issues, but also brain health. Children who get the recommended dose of daily exercise have longer attention spans, higher self-esteem and suffer less from depression and anxiety. Exercise releases feel-good chemicals in the brain and body, and serves as a natural antidepressant. It lowers blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health and reduces Type 2 diabetes. As levels of anxiety and depression rise among our youth, we have to start paying attention to their amount of movement each day.

The tide needs to turn – starting with play. We need to get our kids moving not only through organized sports, but by taking them to parks, exploring Canada’s amazing landscape, finding frogs and skipping stones. We need to let them explore trails, climb trees, draw hopscotch on the sidewalks and not hover over their every move.

Nurture Independence Through the Power of Play

power of play

This spring as snowdrops popped up in the garden and my kids itched to get outside, my friend and I did the unthinkable: we let our kids out on their own. We could still see them from our kitchen windows, but we let them go – gnawing on our fingernails and nervously resisting the urge to strap a tracker to their shoes. The 9-year-old girls sat in the grass and gossiped, then ran up and down the stairs; the six-year-old boys kicked around a soccer ball, found sticks and created an obstacle course, and returned for Frisbees and water. For close to an hour, as the sun dipped into the horizon, they played without parental supervision. And they survived.

Why can’t we let our kids be kids? We helicopter parent them through life, spotting them under monkey bars, driving distances our parents would have forced us to walk. You’ve got two legs that work perfectly fine….use them. We bubble wrap our kids and it isn’t going well.

Set a Good Example

I challenge you to take time this summer to sit in parks with books and watch your children play. (Try some of these wonderful outdoor activities, too!) Let them run up and down hills. Better yet – run up the hills with them. It is no coincidence that the statistics of Canadian kids’ physical fitness levels go hand-in-hand with those of adults. Kids aren’t active because their parents aren’t active.

power of play

This summer, get outside: do planks and push-ups in parks, step up and down off of picnic tables, make fun games out of squatting and jumping jacks. Get your heart rate up.

I will be posting ideas on my blog at www.80-percent.com to keep you active throughout the summer. Get outside and get moving!


Erin Phelan is a health and fitness professional, personal trainer and writer based out of Toronto. Find her at www.80-percent.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.