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When play is serious business

Find out why outdoor play is essential to the all-rounded development of children and for building greater resilience to challenges.

Ferrying Junior to various enrichment classes, homework supervision and a litany of household chores... with so many things dominating your waking hours on most weekends, you may put making time for pure, unbridled outdoor play on the back burner.

Add to the list the dirty, muddied laundry that comes with letting your child play outdoors, and you are more than ready to hand over your iPad to him.

But the physical and mental stimulation that comes with play does have a place in your child’s development, according to Ms Dorothy Tan, principal of MindChamps PreSchool @ City Square Mall.

“Sitting has been shown to increase fatigue and reduce concentration, while moderate to vigorous movement feeds oxygen, water and glucose to the brain, optimising its performance,” she said.

Unfortunately, children in Singapore seem to be getting too much screen time. In a study by DQ Institute and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), it was found that nine-year-olds are spending over 24 hours a week, or about three and a half hours daily, on electronic devices such as mobile phones and tablets.

The study was conducted from August to December last year, and surveyed 1,407 children, aged eight to 12.


It is not only physical skills like motor skills, body coordination and cardiovascular endurance that children develop when they play outside. Cognitive development also gets a leg-up, said Ms Tan.

Cognitive development is an important part of a child's growth as it affects his ability to process information, solve problems, remember, and communicate. These are essential skills that will equip him to overcome the challenges in life.

Another aspect that can’t be learnt in the classroom is that of self esteem through self-actualisation, said Ms Tan. When children overcome the challenges or obstacles they face during outdoor play, and accomplish something they feel was not possible before, it does wonders for the child’s self esteem, she said.

In addition, children’s comprehension of action and descriptive words such as “stomp” and “gentle” is more immediate and longer lasting than in the classroom when they experience exactly what those words mean, explained Ms Tan.

Mrs Lee-Lim Hwee Hoon, mother to five-year-old Samuel Lee, certainly sees the benefits of letting her son play outside. At least twice a week, her kindergartener gets to learn swimming, play badminton, or indulge in some beach or playground fun.

Samuel Lee, 5, attempting his first Spartan Junior Race. PHOTO: Lee-Lim Hwee Hoon

“He is definitely more willing to take up challenges since he started playing outdoors more. He is getting more resilient and explorative,” said Mrs Lee. She had been advised by a traditional Chinese medicine physician to let him play outside as a means to boost his health.

And Samuel isn’t stopping at his weekly activities. He has been inspired to collect medals after finishing the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore’s Kids Dash last December. In fact, Samuel trained to overcome his fear of heights for the Spartan Kids Race that took place in May.

"He went running and attempted the obstacles at the fitness corner," said Mrs Lee, who was proud of her son showing conviction at a tender age, and encouraged by his reaction.

"It made me believe that letting him play outside was the right thing to do," she said. "I will definitely encourage him to try new activities and challenges."


Time is a key barrier to outdoor play for many parents. But it can be overcome by simply starting Junior off at the playground downstairs or the nearby park -- which Mrs Lee did before progressing Samuel to swimming and badminton lessons, and recently, planned races like the Spartan Junior Race.

As for concerns over safety, Mrs Lee feels that parents have to let go of their fears in order for their children to grow.

“Classroom or other indoor activities don’t allow a child to explore his environment or develop the muscle strength as much as the carefully planned obstacles in the Spartan Kids Race. Outdoor play doesn't set boundaries on what a child is capable of achieving,” she said.

Another barrier that parents face is laundry woes. "To be honest, cleaning up can be a chore,” said Mrs Lee. "I don’t let my son wear white clothes when he’s playing outside because I’m worried that his outfits will be ruined by dirt stains. That’s why having a detergent that has tough stain removal power is very important to me.”

And if you need further convincing that letting your child play outside will put a big grin on his or her face, you only need to see the pictures taken at the Spartan Kids Race in the photo gallery above.

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