Thursday, September 26, 2013

Why My Kids Play Outside

I know, seems like a silly title, right?   I mean, don't most kids play outside?

Well, I don't think they do.

Two days ago, after my daughter got out of school for the day, we headed to our local park.   It was a gorgeous, I mean GORGEOUS, day.  Blue skies with puffy white clouds.  Mostly sunny.   75 with a breeze.   Stunning.  It was about 3:00 in the afternoon.   On the way there, my four-year-old says, "We're going to make some friends at the park!"  For an hour the kids played.  We fed the fish.   They swung.  They sat inside a tee-pee style rock wall and ate a snack.  They meandered around, mumbling to themselves, taking silly steps, and daydreaming.  

The entire hour and twenty minutes we were there, no one else besides a group of teenagers, came by.    The park's many attractions (water feature, lake with hungry fish, playground, basketball and volleyball courts, dog park, and walking trail) didn't lure any other guests, despite this park being a favorite play spot for babysitting grandparents and stay-at-home moms of many young children.   The park is in close proximity to many neighborhoods chalked full of children.  

Where were the kids?  

I'm not a lover of the great outdoors, necessarily.  Unless I'm on a beach or in a swimming pool, the outside isn't my favorite place to be.  For one, mosquitoes adore me (must be all the sugar in my blood).  For another, I get hot VERY easily.   And when I get hot, I get irritable.   And finally, I'd rather be on my couch, curled up with a good book and a mug of herbal tea. 

But I grew up playing outdoors.  My fondest memories include making birdseed pies with my siblings, swimming, riding bikes.   (I swear all my outdoor play gave me the space to embrace and cultivate creativity.)     

So imagine my disdain for all the books at my library and at bookstores that are to teach parents how to take their kid outside.  Like 200 pages on what to do with kids outside.    I mean, it's really simple.  Just go outside.  

So, in no sort of order, here's why I take my kids outside:

1:   Kids are made to move and go.   What better place than the great outdoors?

2:  Kids are made to make messes.  Outdoor messes take care of themselves.  

3:  Kids NEED physical activity to avoid diseases like type 2 diabetes (which, by the way, 50% of minorities kids born the year 2000 or after will end up with type 2 diabetes, a disease that is heavily influenced by lifestyle choices).

4:  Kids need the freedom to play without adults directing them on who/what/where/why/how they should play or learn.    I teach composition to college freshman, and I cannot tell you the number of students who cannot brainstorm and expand their ideas.   They've been in so many classrooms and adult-directed activities their whole lives, that they are crippled when it comes to thinking for themselves, creating new ideas, and expanding on why they feel they way they do.    (I remember seeing a book at the library a few years ago.  The title was something like How to be Creative.  How sad!!!)  

5:  Parents need a break.    So many parenting books push parents to be on top of their kids 24/7, directing them, teaching them, correcting them, and guiding them.   Parents, listen up.  It's ok to grab a good book or magazine, plop in a chair, and just enjoy some time while your children play nearby.  (As my kids' former nanny shared, one day she was at an open-gymnastics play session with her son, and so many parents were standing over their children showing them exactly what to do and how.   Our nanny was the only one who was off to the side by herself, doing yoga poses while keeping an eye on her son who was toddling about).     You deserve a break!

6:  Kids need the freedom to meander.   If they are poking trees with sticks, or making a pile of grass, or hoping in place, for the love of God, do not interrupt them!    When kids meander about, they have space to think and learn and grow and feel.   They learn that stress-free time is important.  They get to see the beauty in nature.  They get to feel the presence of God and admire His creation.   Parents, they are learning very important life skills that will cultivate in their hearts a love of relaxing and relishing in beauty.

7:  Kids who play outdoors learn to cooperate and share.  They can push one another on swings, catch a friend coming down the slide, play hide-and-seek or tag, wait their turn.    They can learn these things organically. 

8:  Taking kids outside is almost always free.  A sculpture park, a friend's back yard, a walking trail, a playground.  

I'd love to hear from you on the Great Outdoors! 


  1. My son LOVES to be outside - especially on his playset and in his sandbox. I love that I can watch him play on this playset from the patio or from the kitchen window :) We routinely go for "adventure walks" or "treasure walks" on the path through the trees on the back 2 acres where we walk slowly and I let him gather whatever he finds in a paper bag. I help him build forts with sheets on the clothes line to play in. We also routinely bring inside activities outside -- reading on a blanket in the shade, painting at the picnic table, etc.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more! We have a wonderful park in our neighborhood with basketball courts, tennis courts, a huge open green space for play and my husband and I are constantly amazed that no one is there!!! We are the parents who drag their kids out to play in the winter! We also love a rainy day to go splash in the puddles. I find that it not only helps our active 3 and 5 year old boys, but also helps me mentally/emotionally as a full time stay at home mom. We have made many great memories being in the outdoors, and hope to make many more!

  3. Yes and amen. I love taking my book outside while my six-year-old speeds around the neighborhood with her bike/scooter/roller blades/jump rope/super-fast running shoes. And I'm always amazed at how few other kids we run into.

  4. my daughter would live outside most of the time if I let her. I love that she wants to be outside. Her swing is her favorite and I often find her there laughing up a storm. She is an only child so she plays with herself most of the time but she still finds great happiness in it. I wish more kids spent their time outdoors. I remember being dragged in, sometimes kicking and screaming, when I was a kid and I wish that for all kids.


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