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This App Breaks Down The Basics Of Free-Range Parenting

By Maria Cook

It's a common complaint: kids these days don't go outside enough. They don't venture far from home, they don't hang out with friends in the real world, they'd rather be online or playing video games. It's true that kids today spend more time inside than ever before...but maybe the kids themselves aren't entirely to blame.

As the world has changed, so have parents. In this age of constant news, we are bombarded with scary stories which make us wary of allowing our kids to venture out alone. We don't want our kids to take risks. To get lost. To get hurt. These instincts are natural, but taken too far they can impact children's development. Most parents know this--we know that independent outdoor play is important for kids. But still we struggle to let go.

One app, called "Go Play Outside," is attempting to remedy the over-parenting. The app was developed by OutsidePlay.ca, a resource established by researchers at the University of British Columbia. The goal is to help parents ween themselves off of their overprotective habits, so that their kids can be more free to engage in what the app calls "risky play." 

Sound interesting? Here's how it works:

What the app does

The "Go Play Outside" app has a simple goal: to help parents feel more comfortable in letting their kids play alone, outside. This type of play, which OutsidePlay.ca calls "risky play," is crucial to a child's development. What constitutes risky play? Things like jumping into a pile of leaves, running through the woods, or playing street hockey. The app lays out the different types of risky play as follows: play with heights, play with high speeds, play with dangerous tools, play with dangerous elements, play with a chance of getting lost and rough and tumble play. According to the OutsidePlay.ca website:

"Risky play can have many different shapes, but always involves the thrill and excitement of testing yourself and finding out what happens." 

These types of activities are crucial for developing children's self esteem and resilience. In confronting risks, kids learn how to properly assess situations and protect themselves--skills that they will need later in life. 

After downloading the app, parents will be guided through a "Journey Map" which has three chapters. Each chapter aims to help the parent reflect and make decisions about how they want their child to be able to play.

Chapter one

Chapter One, called "Think of a Child,"  is possibly the most critical chapter, as it addresses the root of society's "problem with play." Parents are asked to reflect upon their own childhoods, and the experiences that they found to be most meaningful, when they were young. Users are given a list of activities and asked to choose which they can remember from their own childhoods, and which they remember as being the most meaningful. They are then asked to think about a child they know--most likely their own child--and choose which of the listed activities that child is allowed to partake in. The app then compares the two lists, giving a precise picture of what kinds of experiences may be lacking in the lives of the user's own kids. 

This process could well leave parents feeling saddened, if they realize that some of the meaningful experiences they had as kids have not been made available to their own children. But honest feelings, even unpleasant ones, are a necessary part of finding solutions. With a clearer picture of what problems need to be solved, the user can move on to Chapter Two.