Get Your Kids Outside
By Christine Hill
What are some of your favorite childhood memories? For many of us, the stage for these memories is the great outdoors… your neighbor’s back lawn, the quiet street of a cul-de-sac, or the wilderness behind your house. However, not enough kids today are having similar experiences. Many estimates state that less than half of kids are playing outside every day.
What’s the problem? Can’t kids get the same benefits from playing indoors? And it’s safer, right? Well, there are many problems that crop up when children aren’t given outside play time. For one thing, time spent outside in natural light has been proven to be good for developing eyesight. Time in green areas also relieves stress and anxiety, leading to better mental health in our children. Studies have shown that when children spend time outside, they have longer attention spans. Even children with ADHD are better able to focus and get higher grades as a result. And of course, when children play outside, they get the benefits of better physical health, with increased disease-fighting Vitamin D, and better physical health. Even in the winter, time spent playing outdoors is essential for a child’s healthy development.
There’s one more good reason to encourage your kids to play outside: to preserve your sanity! A few moments in the day where the kids’ games and screams are outside can be a lifesaver for a busy mom.
Now, it’s all well and good to say that you should let your kids play outside, but how do you make it a reality when the television is always more attractive to your child than sun-dappled leaves? Well, here are some ideas:
Don’t Be Afraid of the Weather
Worried that your children will catch a chill? Maybe you worry that the mud will get them dirty too quickly, or that that rain is bad for their health. Well, studies have shown that kids that adapt to different weather outdoors have better creative and problem-solving skills, so maybe it’s time to embrace it instead. Don’t stress yourself out; just bundle the kids up sufficiently, and have a bath ready when they come in to clean them and warm them.
Introduce some Awesome Outdoor Games
As your kids get older, more structured games will be the best way to get them outdoors. Many of us have huge inventories of outdoor games from our own childhood to draw from. Others of us will need a refresher course on some of our favorites. Try a bunch of different games, because you never know which one will be a repeat hit. I’ve written up some of my family’s favorite outdoor games below:
- King’s Kubb: This is a Swedish game played with wooden blocks on the lawn. It’s possible to make your own materials, but you’ll be able to play the best with regulation tools. The game is played by knocking over the opposing team’s “towers” by tossing sticks across the pitch. It’s easy to learn, and takes almost no time to set up.
- Snail: Snail takes hopscotch to the next level. Instead of creating a line for your hopscotch course, create your path in a huge spiral that gets tighter and tighter. Each time someone makes it through without stumbling or stepping on a line, they claim a square of their own, where they can rest as they go. However, other players need to jump over their opponent’s squares, making the game harder and harder as you go along.
- Red Light/Green Light: In this game, kids run to tag a designated “goalie” without getting caught. This one is fun for parents to join, because you can be the “goalie” and not need to run around the way the kids do. All of the players begin at one end of the yard. The person who’s designated the goalie stands on the other end, and turns their back on the players and yells out “green light!” and players are allowed to make their way. However, as soon as the goalie yells “red light!” everyone has to freeze. As the goalie turns around with open eyes, anyone who moves an inch on the “red light” is disqualified and sent back to the start line. Whoever touches the goalie first wins.
Make Friends with Your Neighbors
Too few of us today know who our immediate neighbors are. However, knowing your neighbors has many benefits. For one thing, you’ll feel safer when your kids are playing outdoors, knowing that you don’t need to worry about threats from neighbors, or you might be comforted knowing that neighbors are also looking out for your kids if they need help.
But for another thing, it’s important for your children to have neighborhood friends. This is the situation that will most often draw them outside, as they find common ground to create their own play spaces with friends.
Teach Your Kids Safety Measures
Many of us hesitate to let our kids run free and wild outside because we worry. Of course we do! And yet, when your child is educated about the risks that they need to watch for, they’ll often be more savvy than you think. Make sure your child takes appropriate cautions around cars. Role-play stranger danger scenarios with them. If you’re interested in teaching your kids more about play safety, you might look into school programs to educate children and parents, like this one, where security officers instruct individuals on recognizing and responding to risks. They even put together ID kits, wherein parents can have their child’s fingerprints, DNA samples, and identification cards on hand.
Make Your Yard Interesting
Most of us believe that in order to be appealing to kids, we need a pristine green lawn. However, in my experience, the most well-used yards are more interesting. They’re full of mudpit corners, hidden crannies, sandboxes, and patches of pure wilderness. Let your children’s imagination roam free by creating a healthy variety in your yard. You might build a little discovery playground, or a maze of logs and rocks. Make sure your children know which areas are theirs and which are off limits, and then let them play with their environment. Here are some clever ideas to make your yard appealing.
Set an Example
Give yourself outdoor spaces that you love too, like a meditation garden, or a deck for reading in the sun. Bring kids with you on expositions to the park, or hiking in the mountains. Cultivate a love of the outdoors in your children by showing an example of prioritizing time outside yourself.
"Time spent with cats is never wasted." ~ Sigmund Freud