It’s easy for parents to fall into the trap of thinking that summer means camps, amusement parks, pool trips, beach, camping, picnics, and activities nonstop. Busy, busy, busy.
And when we’re not going, going, going, many of us feel guilty.
Like our kids always must be doing something.
And it’s easy for parents to fall into the trap of thinking that ‘downtime’ means ‘plugged in’ time: free play on an electronic device–a tablet, phone, iPod, computer, DS, Wii, or whatever. Our kids are learning, right? And having fun? So it’s all good.
But what I am realizing more this summer than ever is that our kids need down time outdoors.
They need it for their mind, body, and spirit.
Like good, ole-fashioned nothing planned, nothing scheduled, just backyard, outdoor fun.
(And remember, it’s important for us—as adults!—to have fun outdoors, too. So check out these fun outdoorsy, 15 field-day games for adults to get your game on!)
Here’s the skinny. . .
- Let Kids Play–Remembering the Importance of Free Time Outdoors: I think because my kids are getting older–10, 8, and 7–that it’s easy for me to forget that they still really need a whole lot of free play time outdoors.
Though it’s no secret that I am an advocate for parents doing what they can to sneak in some learning into their children’s days (it’s what I’ve been writing about for almost six years now–and boy, the tabletop surprises have really taken off!), I’ve also written many times about the importance of free play and time outdoors.
And I still often get emails and questions:
How can parents set kids up for free time outdoors?
What do you say when you ‘unleash’ your kids in the wilds of your back yard and they mope around, complaining that they ‘don’t have anything to doooooooo’?
My kids don’t have neighbor friends like yours do. How do they play outside alone?
How do you ‘force’ your kids to play outdoors if the kids don’t really like being outside?
I don’t know all of the answers, but I do know this: some kids need a little help. They need a little nudge. They need a little guidance in how to play and what to do when they’re handed free time on a silver platter, and here’s how parents can help:
- Ask questions:Why do you think this bush has thorns? What do you see over there hiding in the grass? How many sounds do you hear?
- Make observations: I cannot believe how gorgeous that bird’s feathers are! Look at those tiny toadstools! Have you ever seen a leaf with so many colors?
- Get dirty: Jump in the puddle at the end of your front staircase! Splash in the muddy water under your swings! Tear apart a flower that is on its last leg!
- Be still: Lay on a blanket and look at the clouds. Just sit in the sunlight on a porch swing and enjoy the sun on your face.
- Take risks: Put a few peanuts out on the porch and see if the squirrels come for a snack. Buy a bag of birdseed and feed the birds. Look under a rock and see what’s there.
We’re pretty sure that Cora pulled apart a walnut here. . . we think.
- Move out of your comfort zone: If your kids aren’t comfortable outside, could it be because you’re not 100% comfortable outdoors? Think about it. Try to spend a little bit more unstructured time outdoors if you can, and drag your kids along. See if it gets easier. See if it becomes more natural as time goes on.
- Play together: Throw a baseball with your kiddo. Kick a soccer ball. Bounce a tennis ball. Jump rope. Blow bubbles. Dig in the dirt. Plant a garden. Do anything. Just do it together.
It doesn’t matter what you do; the goal is just to get kids outside and eventually to have them enjoy it. Really!
Psychology Today ran an article in April 2014 by Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. which explained the how the benefits of playing outdoors far outweighed the benefits of indoor play. Narvaez says:
Outdoors, a child learns on multiple levels with each new adventure . . . With all of the imaginary castles, lands, creatures, the brain develops at a much faster rate than for those who play indoors. There are numerous effects. Not only do they become better learners, and do well in school, but they are more fun to be around (i.e. they make more friends)–everyone wants to play with the kid with the active imagination! Consequently, children will be much happier because, hey, they’re smart and they have a lot of friends. All of this comes from just playing outside; you can bake many loaves in the same oven. (Psychology Today. “What’s Better: Indoor or Outdoor Play?” April 5, 2014)
Narvaez also goes on to explain the physical effects of outdoor play on children. She explains that starting outdoor play while kids are young will have long-lasting effects: Years down the road, the child will still be more active and less likely to be overweight. If you think about this, it makes perfect sense; teach a child when they’re young to love the outdoors and they will love it forever. The article’s really worth reading, especially if your kiddos (or you!) need more convincing.
And really, that’s it. Just a good reminder for everyone to give our kiddos the ‘go’ to play outdoors and to just be kids. Because really? They need it. We all do.
fyi: This post was written as part of a partnership with Mosquito Squad. May seem totally random, I know, but it’s because of Mosquito Squad that this year our family has really been able to enjoy our yard again. Thank GOODNESS.
Living in the hot, muggy DC Metro area means that we have our fair share of mosquitos. Up until this year, our yard was basically unusable, awful, and painful from mid-June through mid-September; we would literally be eaten alive by mosquitos at any time of the day. This year, it’s been incredible and a totally different experience. Mosquito Squad takes care of our yard, and we are happy campers (except thank goodness we’re not really camping–).
As always, my opinions are all my own, influenced only by my experience as an educator and a parent, and of course by my three little outdoor explorers.
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My kids also need to be forced outdoors for free play; they are so used to structured outdoor time via sports practices and screen time. The easiest way to make them do this is to take them to the dog park with our dog. There’s a 1.6 mile trail around a reservoir that is wooded and full of fun from streams to “unclog” to rocks to build a wall they’ve been working on for months. There are also tons of sticks to play with. They forget how much fun it is so it’s still a struggle to get them there, but once they are there, they want to stay and stay and stay.
Mia–SAME here–walking the dog is a super way to get them out and moving. . . and enjoying free time! I love that they’re working on building a wall and still love to play in the streams along the path. We’re doing it, lady–slowly but surely, we’re doing it!