My 5th grader was recently amused as she read aloud a passage from her new science book, regarding nature walks. The book warned that you should always ask permission before going outside your house and you should never go into a wooded area alone.
Since it seems like I am constantly hollering into the woods for my children or calling them back from some creek or gully , I was slightly amused at this, too. (Although, if you want your children to ask your permission before going outside it is fine with me!)
This conversation came on the heels of being asked how I get my children to spend so much time outdoors, so I thought I would list a few of the things I do:
Encouraging Children to Play Outside
- Have something for them to do out there. I realize not everyone can live in the county, but if you have a sand box, swing set, bicycles, tree house, trampoline, sidewalk chalk, or anything of interest, they will be more likely to play outside.
- Here’s where you’ll think I’m mean, and that’s okay with me, but sometimes I make them play outside. If it is a nice day, I tell them the fresh air will do them good and shoo them out the door.
- Send them out with a popsicle or water bottle so they won’t perish (or act like they are perishing).
- Set a time limit. Sometimes I tell them I will call them back in at 4:00 or after half an hour.
- If you want them to play outside for a really long time, tell them to come back in when they are ready for a nap. They’ll stay out there nearly the whole day!
- Don’t freak out
ifwhen they get dirty. It’s a pretty good bet they will, but the good news is they clean right up when you dunk them in a tub of soapy water.
- Go outside with them. I often go for walks in the woods with my children, and I love to see the excitement at the leaves and critters we come across. Before long they are pretending to be ancient explorers or little Indian children or spies, and they often stay out long after I decide to go back inside.
My children LOVE to play outside. I encourage it every single day, and according to research, it does them a world of good! Pediatrician and researcher, Pooja Tandon, of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, was quoted in a recent study  as saying,
“Physical activity through play is essential for preschoolers’ growth and development,” and “Outdoor play is also beneficial for motor development, vision, cognition, Vitamin D levels and mental health.”
See? So go ahead and scrap those lesson plans for teaching your toddler to walk or your preschooler to notice leaves , and just go outside and … walk and notice leaves!