Many kids these days are more likely to watch TV or go on the computer than to have some fun outdoors. This disturbing trend is not only unhealthy, it deprives children of much needed physical and social development. Playing outdoors, whether it be a park or a playground, is the very best place for little ones to master emerging physical motor skills, like running, leaping and jumping. Practicing climbing and throwing is also best done under the sun rather than in the house–and saves all your inside decorations! Not to mention the much needed Vitamin D soaked in while playing in nature. The sun light not only stimulates the pineal gland, the part of the brain that regulates the “biological clock,” it is vital to our immune system and makes us all happier campers!
Additionally, kids burn the most calories outdoors and get much needed exercise. Many studies show that obesity, which causes an increased chance of heart disease, has doubled in the past ten years. As many as half of American children are not getting enough exercise, thus increasing this risk as well as other risk factors, such as hypertension and arteriosclerosis, that have been showing up as early as age 5.
Physical well-being isn’t the only benefit of outdoor play. Kids are more likely to invent games outdoors, which allows them to express themselves and learn about the world in their own way. They feel safe and in control, which produces autonomy, decision-making, and organizational skills. Inventing rules for a game promotes an understanding of why rules are necessary. Not only is playing outside fun, they are improving communication skills, vocabulary, and learn social customs by making friends.
Lastly, we cannot underestimate the aesthetic development promoted by being outside. The natural world is filled with beautiful sights, sounds and smell which increases a child’s awareness to appreciate the world around them. Being inside for too long and playing video games can deter kids from developing their senses and take away from the crucial inspiration and joy that nature brings us all. We all have fond memories of our tree house or favorite hiding spot in the backyard as kids. We need to make sure our own children can make these memories–while expending all the boisterous, messy energy that can make your house look like a tornado passed through! Here are a few ideas to get the kids started:
• Take a nature walk! Asking them what they are seeing, hearing, and smelling will increase their appreciation for the nature all around them and encourages discovery of a funny looking rock or some pretty flowers. For very young kids, these are science experiences.
• Set up an obstacle course with whatever you have: old tires, boxes, tree stumps, etc. Moving through it will be a fun challenge and great exercise while also learning important concepts like over, under, through, and around.
• Take a “listening” walk and try to name all the things you hear. See what your kids can identify on their own and help them with sounds they don’t recognize yet. You can even bring a tape recorder to listen to later and make a guessing game of it!
• Play the parachute game! Bring parachute or old sheet outside and shake it out, make waves, or bounce a ball on it.
• Bring a portable boom box outside and let the kids experience the joy of dancing in a natural environment
• Try “water painting,” where children paint the side of a building or a wall with a paint brush and a bucket of water. It exercises the arms and upper torso while also teaching about wet and dry, light and dark, ad evaporation.
• Blowing and chasing bubbles is always a fun outdoor pastime and also gives kids a chance to run around!