The importance of playing outdoors

How much of your child’s day is spent playing outdoors? How much time do they spend riding a bike, climbing the tree, swinging, skipping or playing hopscotch? These activities have so much value for your child’s developing body, and have a huge influence on their academics! Balance, coordination, body awareness, spatial abilities, gross motor skills, muscle tone, and so many others are developed through these activities!

While many people view these activities as simply “play” and something that is done after the work, chores, or academic games are done… they are ignoring a huge part of a child’s development. This affects whether your child is able to sit up straight at a desk for a significant period of time, and even affects spelling, reading and maths, that all require spatial abilities.

How do gross motor activities affect a child’s learning?

  • Endurance during the school day
  • Sitting up straight at the desk for longer periods of time
  • Carrying school bags
  • Affects ability to engage in fine motor skill tasks such as writing, drawing, cutting, doing academic work
  • May affect activities in the classroom where the left and right hand are required to work together
  • Left-right discrimination can affect a child’s ability go from left to right when reading.

Some ideas of activities that can develop these areas:

  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Climbing a tree
  • Swinging on a swing
  • Rope ladders or wobble bridges
  • Climbing jungle gyms
  • Riding bicycles, tricycles, scooters, and pedal cars
  • Hop scotch
  • Jumping jacks
  • Playing with balloons or blowing and catching bubbles
  • 3 legged races
  • Hula hoops
  • Balancing beams
  • Indoor obstacle course – use furniture, pillows and blankets to create areas to crawl on, under and through
  • Outdoor obstacle course – hula-hoops to jump in and out of, jumping jacks, belly crawling, bear walking and other creative movements that challenge your child to balance, crawl, jump and run
  • Simon says
  • Musical chairs/statue
  • Swimming

These are all activities children naturally are drawn to. They need to be used in a fun way. Perhaps use these activities as a way for the family to spend quality time together. Encourage a walk to the park, and racing to be the first to the slide, or create an obstacle course for the children to complete.

Don’t underestimate the value of playing outdoors and being active. A child learns through play. Our world is shifting over to emphasizing academic performance and skills. What we often forget is that these “fun” outdoor activities assist the development of skills our children desperately need in the classroom. While there is great value in educational games, and practising academic skills, we need to be encouraging our children to be playing outdoors, and developing in ALL areas.

Helping your child experience academic success

Supporting your child to be the best version of themselves is one of our top priorities as parents. The world is becoming increasingly focused on academic success, and parents often feel pulled into a rat race of preparing their child earlier and earlier to meet the demands of the classroom.

As human beings we each have our own strengths, and our own personal weaknesses. We all differ in our abilities, and thus we do not all learn in the same way. Each child is unique and has their own innate strengths. If we are aware of these and use them to our child’s advantage, they will be happy and confident individuals because we are building on who they are, rather than forcing them to fit the mould of what society expects.  We all want our children to reach their full potential, yet this requires us to be not only aware of their strengths but also be mindful of their personal weaknesses, so that we know which areas they need support in, and how best to do so.

A scholastic or academic assessment aims to explore all areas of functioning that affect a child’s performance academically. It is therefore important that a full scholastic assessment considers not only the child’s current level of functioning with regards to academic areas (reading, writing, spelling and mathematics) but also considers their cognitive abilities, physical skills that affect learning, memory, verbal and nonverbal abilities, concentration, and emotional functioning. All these areas are strongly intertwined, and all affect the learning process. It is therefore important that all these areas be assessed as a whole, to identify how best to support the learner.

An academic assessment can assist a child who is not reaching their full potential; a child who is gifted and needs to explore ways to ensure they are stimulated and challenged; and it can guide a child with a potential learning difficulty with regards to how best they learn, and thus how they need to be supported.

When parents, teachers, health professionals and of course the learner themselves have a better understanding of their strengths, weaknesses and unique styles of learning, then they can all provide the necessary changes to bring about the most effective learning. Changes in approaches to teaching, tools used in the classroom, seating arrangements, instructional methods, accommodations with assessments and any other additional support required can make a large difference. When those working with the learner are simply aware of how the learner learns best, and what factors are affecting their learning process, a shift in attitude often occurs, which alone can produce wonderful results.

Thanks to lockdown many of us have time to contemplate life. Contemplate life before the pandemic and contemplate what possible changes we want to make when we are able to resume our “normal lives”. This time is a wonderful opportunity to explore how we can better assist our children to become all they are meant to be.


“Children do well if they can, if they can’t we need to figure out why so we can help” – Ross Greene


Does my child really need an Educational Psychologist?

In South Africa there are a number of types of psychologists in practice, with varying areas of speciality. An educational psychologist works with children of all ages to assist them with regards to learning and development. They therefore help children and young people with emotional, learning, academic, intellectual, behavioural, social and developmental difficulties.

How Educational Psychologists Work

Educational psychologists work with young people and their families, to help them to achieve their full potential. An educational psychologist will work closely with not only the learner, but also gather information from the family and any other individuals who are involved in the child’s life. This can include teachers, other therapists and health professionals, tutors, etc. The reason for this is to ensure that the psychologist has a thorough understanding of how the child functions in various environments, as this can differ from setting to setting. The more information that is gathered, the better the psychologist can assist.

Depending on whether an assessment, counselling, parent guidance, family therapy, etc. is required the various role players will be involved at different stages. As the saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child”, we need to ensure that we work together as a team. The teacher may be an expert in education, the therapists are experts in their fields, and the parents are an expert of their child. We therefore need to work together as a team in order to ensure that we are helping the child as effectively as possible.

Scholastic Assessments

If either you as the parent or the teacher have noted any difficulties that your child may be experiencing in the classroom, a scholastic assessment can be helpful in identifying what your child’s strengths are, as well as the areas of concern. Difficulties could include reading, writing, spelling mathematics, concentration, emotional regulation, etc. An educational psychologist looks at how an individual learns, and stores knowledge, particularly in educational settings such as a classroom. This process includes emotional, social, and cognitive learning processes. They assist with individual differences in learning, gifted learners and barriers to learning. Based on these individual differences, they explore the best ways to teach and assess, the most conducive classroom environment to suit that particular learner, as well as factors such as social and behavioural difficulties that may negatively affect a child’s learning. The educational psychologist will make any referrals if necessary to other health professionals, alternative schooling environments, additional learning support, etc. They will also make practical recommendations for the parents and teachers with regards to what they can do at home and in the classroom setting to best support the child, according to their strengths and difficulties.

Subject Choice and Career Assessments

At the beginning of Grade 9 in public schools in SA, learners have to choose between various subject options. This can often be a daunting task as it can have an effect on studies after school. From Grade 11 and 12 onwards, a learner and their family have to consider studying or other alternatives for their first year after matric. This is quite a decision to make for an 18 year old. We each have different abilities, personalities, interests and values. These play a large role in determining the environments we prefer and the types of activities that we enjoy. An educational psychologist also works with the individual to explore their personality profile, aptitude, work values, and interests in order to guide their decision making regarding subject choice, choosing the correct schools, universities, studies and possible career opportunities.

Counselling, Parent Guidance, and Workshops

Educational psychologists also assist with both individual and family counselling to address emotional difficulties that may be impacting upon the child, their learning and development. Parent guidance sessions can be given, with regards to a range of topics such as dealing with divorce, grief, discipline, adoption/fostering, etc. Educational psychologists will also often provide talks and workshops to parents, learners and/or educators on any topic relating to learning and development. Some talks can include study methods, the effect of video games and screen time on your child, identifying barriers to learning in the classroom, cyber bullying, etc.

Helping Your Child Reach Their Full Potential

We are all each unique, with a specific set of skills and talents. We therefore cannot use a one size fits all approach. Helping your child to explore their strengths and style of learning, while acknowledging their difficulties so that they can be addressed early on, is key to assisting them in reaching their full potential.

“Behind every child who believes in themselves is a parent who believed in them first” – Mathew Jacobson