Do you remember your parents kicking you outside during the summer to go run around the neighborhood? You’d come home at the end of the day sunkissed, a little bit sticky, and maybe even covered in dirt, but you were happy and fell into bed exhausted but ready to do it again the next day. I don’t feel like that happens as much anymore, whether for safety issues or because we lead such busy lives; our kids just aren’t spending as much time outdoors anymore.
Maybe you’re like me though, and you’ve noticed the difference in how your kids behave when they’ve spent time outside. Maybe you’ve even noticed the difference in yourself when you get fresh air. I truly believe we were made to spend the majority of our time outside and not cooped up in our homes.
BENEFITS TO BEING OUTSIDE
Don’t believe me? When looking at those who spend an increased amount of time outdoors, researchers have found that:
1. Spending time outdoors is associated with more physical activity, a healthier immune system, and more naturally attuned sleep rhythms.
2. An increase in Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium and is important for bone and muscle health.
3. Spending time in nature, whether walking around or playing, has been shown to help reduce and recover faster from stress.
4. Many researchers agree that kids who play outside are happier, better at paying attention and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors. (Child Mind Institute)
5. Outdoor play promotes problem-solving, creativity, and greater communication.
6. Playing outside provides sensory stimulation and allows kids to explore the world from a different perspective.
7. Children who play outside tend to have better coordination, balance, and agility.
8. Outdoor play encourages independence (through controlled freedom) and gives kids a larger space to explore and discover.
WAYS TO GET OUTSIDE MORE
While we know the benefits of being outside are good for us, how do we encourage not only our kids, but also ourselves to get outside more and play?
First, we need to make it a priority and schedule it into our day. If going outside is a non-negotiable part of our daily routine, it’s more likely to happen. Setting goals around outside time might even be beneficial, if you’re someone who tends to be goal driven. For example, aiming to spend 1000 hours outside over the course of a year, as part of the 1000 hours outside challenge.
Next, make it fun. Having a space that both you and your kids want to be in, means that everyone is excited to get outside. Maybe this means transforming your backyard space, creating a garden, getting bikes for everyone, or finding a nature trail that everyone loves to explore. This doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and you’ll notice the more time you spend outdoors, the easier it is to find things to do.
Also consider providing different options for play in your outside space. Just like in your playroom design, you want to have different elements that encourage a variety of play. Appeal to their tactile sense with things like water, mud, sand, or rocks. There are so many fun toys that will even take this type of play a step further. Let them explore the natural elements by giving them baskets or critter catchers to collect things they find. Think about fine motor and gross motor activities, giving them options for both; and don’t be afraid to let them climb that tree. So often when we first start doing something new, finding ideas or sparking creativity can be a challenge, so options like these kickstart our kids’ imaginations; but the more time they spend outside playing, the less and less they’ll need these prompts to ward off boredom and the more likely they are to just find things to do.
Give yourself a change of scenery. Take them to a park, the beach, a farmers’ market or a 4H fair. All these places provide outdoor educational experiences and help you create lasting memories as a family, while kicking you out of your day-to-day space.
Finally, join them and lead by example. Find a new hobby to do outside, take your book out to read on the porch, or schedule dinner on the back patio. If your kids see you making outdoor time a priority, they’ll be more likely to head outside too!
What are your family’s favorite things to do outdoors?
Looking to refresh your Outside Play resources? Here are some of our favorites!
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