It’s the longest, darkest, coldest time of the year. As quarantine drags on, and winter madness sets in, it’s still time to play outside!
I realize this may seem like the last thing you (or your kids!) want to do. When the weather is cold, it’s REALLY hard to convince yourself to go outside… but the benefits of playing outside are hard to ignore. And, once you get out there, it *can be* fun and rewarding.
Easier said than done in these winter months. So here are the top ten ways we have been encouraging our little ones to get outside, stay there, and PLAY!
- Do ANYTHING glow in the dark. Let’s face it, it’s dark 15 hours a day!
- Play laser tag, or glowstick tag, or T.V. tag–you get the idea.
- Build a slackline or secret hideout.
4. Complete a rainbow scavenger hunt. This takes extra time and is a REAL challenge in an Indiana winter!
5. Use a kid-friendly field guide to identify plants and animals.
6. Re-purpose an “outdoor” space–put a heater on the patio and have a picnic. Build a Lego table or race track in the garage.
7. Take a hike.
8. Draw with chalk.
9. Put a new spin on old games like frisbee.
10. Bribe as needed–hand warmers, hot chocolate, bubble bath, whatever it takes!
You, your body, and your little ones will thank you! Playing outside allows us 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 our bodies. 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!