Let Kids Play Outside

This weekend I celebrated my daughter’s 14-years birthday with our entire family. At one point I’m in the garden with my beautiful 3-years-old niece who was climbing trees for the first time. She is used to climbing on playgrounds, but she had never tried climbing a tree. A chair helped her reach the first possible place to get a foothold. She handled everything herself, but in case she lost her balance, I had a hand close to her. From here she climbed about 1 1/2 meters up, as she easily angled around the smaller branches that were in the way. From a point where I could still reach her from the ground, she threw herself out into my arms, where I gave her a big applauding swing. She whistled and was delighted and it was obvious that she felt very happy about the fact that she actually mastered something new. She repeated it again and again until we had to return to the other guests.

Play Is Not A Lazy Luxury
To get outside and move freely is great for most children. For some it is a natural element to be outside and for others it can feel more challenging. In my new book, soon to be published: Play The Danish Way – A Guide to Raise Balanced, Resilient and Healthy Children through Play I emphasize why play is so valuable and why free unstructured play should be acknowledged as a natural ingredient in every child’s life. In Denmark play is not seen as some lazy luxury but as a developmental cornerstone. In play kids are free to explore their full potential and develop their individual talents, without the constraints of adulthood.

Foster Happiness
Playing outside can seem dangerous, yes, but so many things can happen all the time and today we spent most of the time protecting our children from bad things. By shielding them from the “natural hazards and accidents” – by not allowing them to use their imagination and play in nature, we risk having children who will be paralyzed and frightened.
Life is about getting skinned knees as well. It is about falling down and getting back up. No matter what, these experiences are small victories, which help shape resilience in a child in the long term. And resilience has been proven to be one of the greatest factors in cultivating more happiness. By overprotecting our children there is a risk we create children who do not dare to use and explore their imagination, fearing that something might happen – without even trying. We have to remember that it is usually our (adults’) perceptions that prevent children from trying things out and play freely.

My sweet niece’s satisfaction while mastering a new skill was precious. Her eyes tickled and she had red cheeks and I am sure she felt absolutely happy in the moment. She could have continued forever. I am convinced that play will soon be seen as the most educating practice in the future. And it does not cost a cent. At most it asks for a little presence and attention from us.

Let’s Go Wild
I hope we together can break the chains of a planned structure of life and let our kids’ imagination run wild and instead find structure within. I hope, for the sake of our children’s future, that we understand the importance of raising strong and resilient human beings, that will develop such deep and strong roots, that will not be torn up when hard wind rages and things around them crack.

One Tip To Get Started:
Go outside – nature is beautiful and it is a never-ending playground with all the facilities that’s needed. Maybe invite family members to come play. Play connects and makes everybody happier in the long run.


Iben Sandahl

Iben Sandahl comes from Denmark and is an internationally-renowned public speaker, best-selling author, psychotherapist and educator. She has more than 20 years of experienced insight into child psychology and education, which in a most natural way anchor the Danish way of practicing parenthood. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Salon, El Païs, Reader’s Digest, Greater Good Science, Elle and many more - and her main mission is to help parents raise happy and confident children. She writes for Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/experts/iben-sandahl ) and leads an European Erasmus financed project on how to implement empathy in schools and institutions all over Europe.

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