We All Know that Time Outside is Like, Really Good for Our Kids
It’s no secret that kids need time outside every day. We know that it’s important for their health & development – time outside has benefits like this:
- Better physical fitness – according to studies, the steady increase in screen time has led to this: “physical activity among American youngsters peaks before age 10, and perhaps as early as 2, and begins a steady and accelerating decline after that.” (from this NY Times piece by Gretchen Reynolds) PEAKS BEFORE AGE 10? WHAT?!?!?! That made my jaw drop.
- Time outside improves kids’ focus and lowers stress. It can help to manage symptoms for kids with ADHD, and even kids who don’t have that diagnosis benefit – outdoor play gives kids “Long term gains in attention and impulse control” (Victoria Dunkley, MD in this piece for Psychology Today)
- Kids who have time to get dirty outside making mud pies & rolling in the grass have a lower rate of allergies & asthma, improved immunity, and continued health benefits into adulthood, like lower rates of inflammation – check out this really well-researched post at Wellness Mama: Why Kids Need Dirt
So if we know how important and healthy outside time is, why is it so hard to do? Time, time, time. There’s just never enough.
When I was young, my mom sent us out to play, and that meant roaming the woods near our house, riding bikes all over the place, and rambling around the neighborhood with all the other kids who were out.
But those days are gone. I can’t picture sending my kids on that sort of expedition now, and even if I wanted to, there’s no other kids out there for them to play with. Times have just changed that much.
Of course, we can throw everyone in the car and hit the playground or walk around the pond or shoot hoops at the basketball court. And we do those things. But that can’t be every day, not if I want to wash some clothes or cook dinner once in a while.
So what’s a mom to do? How can I make sure my kids are getting plenty of time in the great outdoors without giving up all my time to make it happen?
How to Get Your Kids Outside More –
4 Simple Things You Can Do Today
Move Indoor Play Outside
I try to move as much of my kids’ play outside as I can. Blocks, dolls, action figures – bring it
out into the yard. We have a little platform made of a couple of scrap pieces of 2×4 with plywood across the top so there’s a stable surface to put train tracks or towers on, so the kids can get barefoot and connect with the dirt & grass & fresh air.
Board games and arts and crafts too – take it to the table or out into the grass. They can paint or play or cut & glue & color to their heart’s content while I keep an eye out from the kitchen window. I can get housework & dinner done, and bonus: they’re not wrecking the house!
It helps to have some baskets available near the door to help with moving things in and out of the house
quickly & keeping pieces contained – I have a
stack of trays from Ikea that we use for schooling & play, and I keep an eye out for handled baskets whenever I’m at Salvation Army or Goodwill – that way they can come in and out and take a beating, and I won’t feel so bad when they’re no longer fit for duty 😉
Invest in a Good Collection of Outdoor Play Supplies -It Doesn’t Have to be Expensive!!
You don’t need any expensive or elaborate equipment – think simple, like jump ropes, hula hoops, gardening tools, mud kitchen supplies. Consignment & thrift stores are your friend again here – we have a thrifted collection of real pans, kettle & spoons that the kids use for mud cooking.
Buy or make lawn games like Kub & corn hole that work well for all ages, can be played by real or made up rules, and get kids working cooperatively.
Use leftover materials and found objects to set up a mini relay or ninja warrior style course – my husband’s a construction worker so we tend to have scrap wood and extra cinderblocks & rope around that we can use to set up a course with hurdles and turns and crawl unders that keep them busy & laughing for ages!
Go Out & Walk Your Neighborhood Every Day
Get to know your neighborhood and go wander it every day, even if it’s just for 20 or 30 minutes. Before breakfast and after supper are great times for this. Find the best climbing trees in the neighborhood, bring a bag to collect litter, or have a mini-scavenger hunt. Notice & point out the way your neighborhood changes as the months and seasons roll by. Look for a post coming soon on all the different things we do to keep our strolls fresh & fun even though we’re walking the same blocks month after month.
Bring Your Meals Outside & Picnic at Home
Breakfast, lunch, supper, whatever you like. Spring & fall are great times to picnic, but don’t be afraid of the h
eat of summer or cold winters! In summer we love eating breakfast outside and getting that fresh, clean morning air before the heat sets in. And in winter we bundle up and head out with something hot & simple like stew or chili – it’s actually really a cozy & fun way to picnic!
This is a really simple way to get an extra 30 or 60 minutes outside every day – more if you do more than one meal outside. This doesn’t have to be a lot of work! Prepare and plate up your meal like you normally would, but instead of eating at the table just throw a blanket in the grass outside. A tray or tub or even
an empty box for getting the dishes back into the house in one trip & the blanket goes into the hamper. Easy peasy
Pick up a few outdoor tablecloths to use as picnic blankets & keep them stashed by the door (now is a great time – end of season clearance is your friend!) I also have a couple of serving trays to get the plates & food outside & back in quickly.
How much time do your kids spend outside? What are your fast & dirty tips for getting in extra fresh air?
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