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The great outdoors is such a wonderful place for children (and adults) to play and learn. We try hard to get our boys outside at least once a day. Sometimes it’s just for a few minutes to walk to the mailbox, other days we are outside for hours. It’s amazing what just a little bit of time in the sun can do for everyone.
Learn to Appreciate Nature
When you spend time outside, you learn to appreciate the beauty around you. Being among the trees makes you realize how much they help us, consciously and subconsciously. We tell the trees thank you for providing the shade we play under when we are at the park. I’ve taught my boys that pulling leaves off of a plant can hurt it. Even at their young ages, they are learning that we need to be nice to the nature around us. We are careful not to do anything that could harm any animals, and even the “scary” things, like bees, are good and are needed. Except wasps, those spawns of evil are an exception!
There’s no better way to get the vitamin D your body needs than to soak up the sun’s rays. Of course, you don’t want to soak up so much that you get burned, but a bit of sun every day is really good for your body. If you’re like me, all it takes it about 5-10 minutes of sun before I start to get pink. Know your limits, and your child’s limits, and take necessary precautions. We usually go play in the backyard once the sun is on the front of the house. We still go into the sunny areas for a little bit, but most of the time are in the shade. It’s the perfect mixture of sun and shade.
Sure, we have some outdoor toys that we play with, but we also will make up games based on what we find. We’ve played games the boys made up using just sticks and leaves, or sometimes rocks, or shells when we are at the beach. When a child is bored, they will use their creativity to come up with something fun. Going outside minimizes all the distractions and let’s their imagination run wild.
No Screens Outside
There have actually been studies done on the effect that going outside has on a child’s vision. Most believe that this is linked to not staring at a screen when they are playing outside. My boys are limited to one hour per day on their tablets, and they have the tv on quite a bit but aren’t actively watching it most of the time. When we go outside, they aren’t allowed to bring their tablets, we don’t have an outdoor TV, and my phone is only out there to take some photos and listen to music. Encourage them to ride their bikes or even an scooter if they have one!
Most of the time, you aren’t going to go outside and just sit still. You are going to be walking, running around, playing games, swinging at the park, etc. When you get outside, you are more likely to increase the amount you are moving, thus getting more exercise in. Childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic in the United States, and spending time outside can help your child burn off some of their energy.
Boost the Immune System
Remember that Vitamin D you are soaking up outside? Turns out just being outside can boost your entire immune system. Unless you are somewhere that has poor air quality (or have a medical reason against breathing in the air outside), usually the air outdoors is better than the air in your home. You also tend to get better oxygen when you are out among the plants and trees.
What do children have to stress about? Sure, it seems silly, but children can be stressing about things that seem so simple to us. Getting outside, in the sun, among the trees, can naturally lower stress levels. Sometimes when my boys are having cranky days that everything seems to bother them, we either go out back to play or walk down to the park and it’s amazing the difference it makes in their attitudes. Bonus, it also helps me unwind from dealing with their crankiness.
When we go in the backyard to play, it’s just us. When we go to the park, the playground, or even play in the front yard, we are almost always joined by other kids. Sometimes these are neighbors and kids we know, others we just meet. No matter who it is, playing with other children helps them all to socialize and learn some basic manners. Everyone can’t go down the slide at the same time, there’s only one winner in the race, not everyone wants to play the same game. All of this forces them to learn how to deal with these circumstances.
Gross Motor Skills
There’s a lot more room to run around, spin, jump, and climb outside than there is in the house. Going outside and letting the kids burn their energy lets them work on their gross motor skills and learning their limits.
So now that you have committed to getting outside more often, what are you going to do? Part of this depends on the age of your children, but there are so many things you can do outside.
Create a nature journal with your children. Buy a simple notebook, and let them write down or sketch photos of the neat things that they find while out and about. Go for a walk on a nearby nature trail or take a bike ride and see what you can find together. Maybe put together your own scavenger hunt of things you want to look for. Make a nature box to hold anything neat (not alive) that your child finds and wants to hold on to and keep it outside for them to add to it often.
Another great way to teach children about nature and what it provides for us is to start a garden together and let them help plant the seeds, water, harvest, etc. My boys love to help in our garden.
For some fun in your own yard, you can always get some chalk, bubbles, or water guns to play with. Kids love to draw with chalk, and it washes away easily. My boys haven’t quite mastered bubbles yet, but they love to chase them! And if it’s a warm summer day, water is always fun.
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