It’s that Goldilocks time of year, not too hot, not too cold, just right–and that won’t last long! It’s time to play outside. With summer camp canceled and quarantine prolonged, even I’m tired of screen time. While we’ve always loved playing outside, we are doing it now, more than ever. I appreciate all that it has offered our family. Including the opportunities to:
- Appreciate nature. Walking in the woods, digging in the soil, seeing animals in their habitat, climbing a hill, playing in a stream, or staring at the sky are all ways to appreciate nature. No matter how you are spending your time outside, studies show that time spent in nature has a calming effect and even reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. How restorative! Something we could all use right now.
- Soak up the sun. Our bodies need sun exposure to make vitamin D. This is essential–from bone development to strengthening our immune system as well as healthy sleep and mood. We work best when we get some sunshine every day!
- Move my body. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should be active for an hour every day, and getting outside to play is one way to be sure that happens. Outdoor play is active play, which is the best exercise for children. Riding a bike, kicking a ball, climbing a tree, walking in water, all offer not only an opportunity to exercise but a way to engage our other senses, including proprioception. This is helpful for balance, emotional regulation, and much more exciting than the rote version I was doing at the gym pre-quarantine.
- Solve problems. Sibling rivalry has been in full force during the quarantine. Much of our playing outside initially involved hitting each other with sticks, and yet children need to learn how to work together, to share and cooperate, and how to treat other people. If they only interact in very structured settings–school or sports, they can’t learn everything they need to know. Playing outside offers an unstructured opportunity for creative play and problem-solving. It helps us plan, prioritize, troubleshoot, negotiate, and multitask–all great life skills.
- Get creative. We have to use our imagination to entertain ourselves. Imagination is a muscle like any other. It requires some flexing to get stronger, and to do this; children need unstructured time. They need time alone and with siblings and other children to be allowed (ahem, forced) to make up their own games, figure things out, and amuse themselves. Being outside gives them the practice they need to develop these important life skills.
- Take risks. At our house, we have a “long leash.” That’s intentional. We grew up in the country, as latch key kids. Our children are city kids and don’t have much time to practice this kind of autonomy without us intentionally creating that space. Children need to take some risks. If we keep them in bubbles and never let them take any risks, they won’t know what they can do — and they may not have the confidence and bravery to face life’s unavoidable risks. You can scrape a knee, or worse when climbing a tree. You can be humiliated when you try to make a friend and get rejected. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! The lessons we learn from failure are, arguably, more important than those we learn from success.
So, do what our parents did and send your kids outside!