I am somewhat baffled at two different extremes I see in parenting practices related to the outdoors. That said, I understand why they happen (especially now as an adult and busy parent myself), but think the repercussions are far more life-long than most realize.
- Kids are driving parents crazy so they are “banned” to the outdoors and expected to stay out there as long as possible. The message is sent that it is a punishment.
- Outdoor time is taken away for kids that are misbehaving. This could either be in schools where kids are not able to go to recess because of their misbehavior OR at home where “the kids were being naughty so I didn’t let them go outside.”
Obviously there are exceptions and different circumstances to take into account. Sometimes kids DO just need to go outside and an adult isn’t available to be there too (not as an “entertainer” but rather as a good example.) Other times classwork needs to be done and recess is the only available time. However, I think this should be more the exception than the rule. A “once in a while” instance is drastically different than a recurring event.
Susan Ohanian, an education advocate and author of What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten states, “Anybody who knows anything about children–particularly little kids–knows that they learn so much on the playground: how to get along, negotiate, make and follow each other’s rules, talk to one another, and fall down and get back up again.”
Sixty minutes of daily unstructured free play is essential to children’s physical and mental health. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008)
Numerous studies have shown that recesses in school help attention span, processing their learning and reducing aggression.
Children learn by example, as much as, as parents, that sometimes makes us cringe. They are the ultimate in “monkey see, monkey do.” Again, there are exceptions to this too with different kids and personality types. However, if kids see their parents getting out, getting exercise, and enjoying their time in the fresh air (and making it a priority) it is becoming the norm for them.
Are you saying I can’t just send my kids outside to play?
Unstructured outdoor play time is essential to fostering creativity, imagination play and an individual love for nature. That said, if kids never see their parents go out on their own (between a balance of family time and kid-free “sanity time”), they are much less likely to pursue a life-long commitment to their outdoor health.
What do kids really need?
- An opportunity to play outside unstructured and safely
- Gear to keep them warm and comfortable in all weather conditions so they CAN get out daily. **This is the reason we do so many gear reviews on the blog – so you can see what is out there. That said, kids don’t need the latest and greatest – just gear that works!**
- The opportunity to see and experience different environments (not just their backyard)
- The knowledge that getting out in fresh air is healthy and makes them happy
- Exposure to a variety of activities (digging, sliding, exploring, hiking, biking, skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, climbing, etc.)
Tips to making sure it happens – at home and at school:
- Schedule outdoor time into your daily routine as a family: walk to the bus stop, play outside right after school/work, be ok with going out in the dark, plan ahead the night before so you can go out in the mornings, etc. Do what works for YOUR family.
- Use weekends for extended outdoor time.
- Be an advocate for daily recess without exception in your child’s school. At the end of this article there are some great tips on how to do that.
- Going private for schooling? Research montessori or outdoor schools in your area.
- Resist “throwing your kids outside” when they are “driving you crazy”. Go with them, even for part of the time. Usually the fresh air is beneficial to everyone.
- Invest (or search for on bargain sites) good gear that will keep your kids happy, dry and warm. It makes a huge difference for positive outdoor experiences.
- Try something new as a family each year or season.
- Commit to making your outdoor time as much of a necessity for your kids as it is for you.
Why Kids Need Recess and Exercise from Parenting
Why Be Out There? from the National Wildlife Federation
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