Canada's Chief Public Health Officers/Medical Officers of Health recommend unstructured and independent active play for children and youth

June 23, 2018

Earlier this summer, the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health (CCMOH) released a Statement supporting and endorsing earlier work on the important of outdoor active play.   The main statement is that: "Access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its risks—is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings—at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature." 

Dr. Heather Morrison, Chief Public Health Officer in PEI and Chair of the CCMOH, says, "The CCMOH recognizes the importance of children's active outdoor play as children exposed to the outdoors and nature are more likely to be happier and have more energy. The evidence also demonstrates that the benefits - like increased confidence, autonomy and self-awareness - are tremendous not just in childhood but throughout life." 

Children need the freedom to be active and explore their physical limits because active outdoor play has numerous social, emotional and physical benefits. Active outdoor play tests boundaries and includes things like exploring the woods, roughhousing, moving fast and climbing. Children are happier, have more energy and are less anxious when exposed to nature and the outdoors.  Research shows that there are significant health and developmental benefits to getting outside: 

  • -Children who played in a natural environment for 9 months developed superior motor skills, balance and coordination compared to those who played in a traditional playground
  • -Children who participated in more outdoor, nature-based activities had stronger, more empathic relationships to nature
  • -Children who visited green places more also visited them more as adults
  • -Children who had more nature experiences were more likely to be adult environmentalists
  • -Children with more nature in their environments experienced lower levels of psychological distress in response to stresses
  • -Children with more green space close to home had lower rates of anxiety and depression.

Active outdoor play is also recognized in the Common Vision for Increasing Physical Activity and Reducing Sedentary Living in Canada: Let's Get Moving. Led by the federal, provincial and territorial Ministers responsible for sport, physical activity and recreation, the Common Vision was recently released on May 31, 2018 and is another example of the collective momentum to address physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour for all Canadians.

"Parents and caregivers, professionals in the health, sport, education and recreation sector, community organizations, and governments can influence active outdoor play in a variety of ways. We all need to work together to make it much easier to find a balance between scheduled activities and free time during which children can engage in active outdoor play," said Dr. Robert Strang, Chief Medical Officer of Health in Nova Scotia and Co-chair of the Public Health Network Council.