Playing Outside 101

As seen in the summer 2012 edition of WV Family Magazine – www.wvfamilyonline.com

The benefits of playing outside are numerous. Recent research shows that kids who play outside sleep better, are more creative, have increased academic performance, lose weight and are happier. Playing outside in an unstructured way (free-parts play) inspires the imagination and encourages movement.
Getting outside with your kids can be a challenge, but opening the door is the first step. Here are some tips for having an enjoyable experience with your children.
  1. Remove your expectations from the experience. Let it be a time free of restrictions and definitions (aside from those concerning safety) and allow your children to explore and experience these moments in their own way. Enjoy their wonder and delight and maybe even rediscover your own!
  2. Start with an area where you are comfortable. Outdoor experiences don’t have to be in expansive wilderness. Magical moments can happen in small spaces. My kids love the church lot in our neighborhood; the lilac bushes growing there have a perfect opening for them to pretend they are building campsites and birds’ nests and provide a place for them to get lost in their own secret garden.
  3. When you venture out to a park with a larger patch of woods, a creek or a trail system, don’t set a destination. Let the kids take the lead and move at their pace. Take breaks as needed. No one will enjoy a forced march. Moving slowly gives the kids time to notice the little things that the rest of us, as we grow older, forget to investigate. The intricate patterns of a snowflake; the ants working back and forth from their nest to a food source; the mother wren collecting insects for newly hatched young; the acorn germinating in the leaf litter along the path are all things easily missed when you walk fast and forget to look around.
  4. Pack a small backpack with snacks, water and a change of clothes. Don’t be afraid to let them get muddy or wet!
  5. Try not to dismiss curiosity. Beginner’s field guides will help identify plants and animals you might see. Use your smart phone – “there’s an app for that!” A hand lens, kids binoculars, butterfly net and a container for collecting things help children engage with what is around them and get a closer look. If they like to draw pack a small notebook and a pencil. You can take a picture, make a sketch, list key characteristics and look it up when you get home. None of these items require a large investment and any one of them can inspire a lifetime of healthy activity or maybe even a career!

If you have trouble with this, consider joining in on an organized activity that will allow you and your children to have a valuable experience under the guidance of others. Many communities offer nature clubs for children or families. Remember, the idea is to have an enjoyable experience so that you will all want to do it again.

To learn more visit:

http://www.childrenandnature.org/research/

http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Be-Out-There/Why-Be-Out-There/Benefits/Green-Time-Sleep-Time.aspx

http://blog.nwf.org/2011/08/the-best-wildlife-and-nature-iphone-and-android-apps/

http://www.audubonguides.com/field-guides/mobile-apps.html

http://www.acornnaturalists.com

Climbing a tree!

One of our “dens” on a Lake Erie beach.

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1 Comment

Filed under Family, Natasha, Nature

One response to “Playing Outside 101

  1. Jen

    Love these reports. So inspiring and basically, simple to do. You Rock, Natasha!

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