Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Bringing risk back into children's lives

Experts say overprotective parents are not allowing their offspring enough time for 'kids to be kids'.

Parents are being urged to "Re-Wild their child" and get their kids involved in risky play outside.

The growing number of children stuck indoors on tablets, computers and game consoles has experts worried and they want parents to make a change.

New Zealand researcher Dr Scott Duncan has joined the call for parents to get their children outdoors and engaged in challenging and sometimes risky play situations.

Dr Duncan is a guest speaker at the forthcoming Re-Wild The Child event at The Parenting Place - hosted by visiting British documentary maker David Bond.

The father of three and AUT researcher will join Bond and three other New Zealand experts to give parents advice on how to reclaim the outdoors for their children.

Dr Duncan has just finished his own "State of Play" survey of 2004 New Zealand parents. He found parents knew the importance of free-play but didn't give their children enough opportunities to get out there.

He said New Zealand was becoming an increasingly risk-averse society where children were "over-scheduled" with organised after-school activities and there wasn't enough time left in the week for "kids to be kids".

His research found there was a growing concern that "bubble-wrapped" children had limited opportunities to play creatively, instigate physical activity and overcome challenges themselves.

"There are two words we use far too much and they are 'be careful'," Dr Scott said.

"People think that kids falling down and hurting themselves is always a bad thing but they actually learn a lot from those experiences."

As a parent, Dr Duncan has his backyard set up with trees to climb, swings, slides and platforms designed to encourage free-play.

His sons Jamie, 7, Ollie, 5, and daughter Sophie, 2, are encouraged to get outside and play at every opportunity. Rough-and-tumble play is encouraged and bumps and bruises are common. The family love technology and the children still have time on tablets and computers but this is balanced with "tramp-breaks" and extended periods outside.

Dr Duncan supports the ethos of Project Wild Thing - a movement in Britain started by Bond which aims to get children off technology and reconnect them with nature.

This week the documentary maker, in the country to promote Project Wild Thing, said he wanted to see New Zealand parents make changes at home by leading by example.

People think that kids falling down and hurting themselves is always a bad thing but they actually learn a lot from those experiences.
Dr Scott Duncan

"Get outside with your kids and instigate play," Bond said. "Entice them outside, bribe them if you have to but make it a habit and you will find they will want to be outside more and more. When they eventually come inside and use technology their time on it will be well spent."

Through his research while making his award-winning 2012 documentary, Bond found children in Britain spent less time outside than the two hours mandated for maximum-security prisoners. By the time they reach the age of 7 the average British child would have spent a full year on a computer or tablet.

Other guest speakers at the event include Swanson Primary School principal Bruce McLachlan, who instigated free-play in the schoolyard, family coach Jenny Hale from The Parenting Place and Jill Goldson, director of The Family Matters Centre.

Encouraged by their parents to play outside are (from left) Finn Krishnan, 8, and his sisters Ava, 6, and Zara, 3, from Pt Chevalier. Photo / Doug Sherring
Encouraged by their parents to play outside are (from left) Finn Krishnan, 8, and his sisters Ava, 6, and Zara, 3, from Pt Chevalier. Photo / Doug Sherring

Family make time for outdoor adventures

The Krishnan family have wiped the after-school activity planner clear this year.

Apart from winter weekend sports and swimming lessons, Rosie and Ronil Krishnan are concentrating on free-play for their children Finn, 8, Ava, 6 and Zara, 3.

Last year, the Pt Chevalier family found each week was jam-packed with weekday activities and they wanted to free up some time.

"We have decided to have a break and are concentrating on making time to go out for walks, go to the beach and do an outside activity every weekend," Mrs Krishnan said.

"I think as a parent sometimes there is pressure to fill every minute of your child's day."

The family have always taken their children on camping holidays but are now trying to get back to nature in the weekend as well.

"We often rip out the best Auckland walks guide and get out there and now we are trying to encourage the kids to have more input on where they want to go," Mrs Krishnan said.

Like many New Zealand families, the Krishnans struggle to limit screen time.

As a Year 3 pupil at Pt Chevalier Primary, Finn has his own laptop for school.

He gets 30 minutes screen time in the morning and another 30 minutes in the afternoon.

"We are trying to keep it at that limit and make sure that is balanced with playing outside as well."

Dr Duncan's ten tips for letting your child go wild

1 Make a family decision to prioritise unstructured free play: build free play into everyday life, even if it means dropping some structured activities.

2 Get the right gear for going on adventures: quality gumboots, raincoats, whatever you need to conquer the weather.

3 Allow your child the privilege of making mistakes so they can learn from them: scrapes and bruises are part of childhood.

4 Let your child climb trees: choose trees that are an appropriate height for your child's ability and let them go for it.

5 Teach your child to use adult tools safely: creating and building real objects with real tools breeds confidence and responsibility.

6 Interrupt long stretches of screen time with active outdoor breaks: with any luck, your child will forget about the screen.

7 Have a messy backyard: loose repurposed objects (ropes, tyres, nets, sticks, bricks, timber) are perfect for creative play.

8 If you have an older child, let them explore their neighbourhood without adults: give your kids the opportunity to develop their independence and leadership skills, and to form lasting memories with their friends.

9 Take your child "into the wild" every weekend: make it a family tradition - and let your child lead the way.

10 Let other parents know when your child enjoys a fun outdoor adventure or takes part in risky play: change what it means to be a good parent in New Zealand by setting the example for others.

- NZ Herald

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