June 24, 2024

Alex o'Loughlin

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How Playing Outdoors Teaches Lessons of Empathy in Children

Empathy is an important life skill, which means to feel for others and understand what they feel by putting yourself in someone’s place. This improves the ability to understand and respect others. Since kids aren’t naturally born to empathize, they learn it through the outdoor activities. In this post, I am going to highlight some ways that play boost empathizing skills in children.

1. Cooperation
Playing outdoors is all about teamwork, which, in turn, is linked to cooperation. While playing in a group, each member has to interact and support another in order to achieve the desired goal. Whether they are playing in a playground, classroom, or a neighborhood park, the outdoor playtime involves assistive work that directly links to empathizing skills.

2. Mind Reading
Apart from playing with preschool playground equipment or other types of equipment, some simple games such as chess or checkers help in understanding what the opponent is thinking. We do not get to learn this important life skill any other way. When a child becomes smart enough to read other’s minds, this makes him empathizing as he is now capable of walking in his shoes.

3. Feel What Other Feels
The imaginative play or pretended play is all about being something you are not. When a child acts like a teacher, doctor, and architect and goes through all the processes these characters experience regularly, he gets to know what it feels like. One can only understand another person’s feelings when he goes through the same process. Through pretended play, a child becomes capable of seeing life from another person’s viewpoint and this makes him empathizing.

4. Caring for Other’s Feelings
Children do stupid things sometimes such as hitting an animal and enjoying it. They do so due to unawareness of the fact other living beings have feelings. While playing outdoors, especially in a playground, children meet and greet peers and colleagues and cooperate with them in playing. When an unfavorable event occurs such as an injury to a fellow, he feels what his friend would be feeling and helps him cover his wounds.

Similarly, there are cats and dogs wandering around in some playgrounds. I remember I took my daughter to the shade structure in San Diego and she interacted with some cute cats there and started hitting her. I told her just like we feel hurt with injuries and wounds; animals can feel the same, too. This way, she learned to empathize and I didn’t see her hitting an animal again since then.

5. Respect Other’s Choice
It happens pretty often on a playground that one child wants to play a game while other wishes to experience something else. When two children of different game choices interact, they respect each other’s selection. Never in my experience had I seen children fighting to force each other into playing a particular game. Every child has the freedom to play what he likes, and this, I believe, is a key to learning empathy.

6. Achieving a Common Objective
A group has a common goal and each member strives the hardest to achieve it. One day I saw some children playing puzzle together and all of them were struggling to complete it and were putting their best efforts. Upon focusing a little more, I realized they were the same children I saw a few days back fighting with each other over something. This made me realize outdoor play brings empathy to children’s personality. They work together by forgetting all the differences and grudges when they have to, and this is amazing!