Kids need time outdoors. Studies show that kids who have unstructured playtime outside and in nature are happier, more cooperative, expressive, calmer and more intelligent. As a teacher, I have taken numerous groups of kids to outdoor education. The change in some kids is amazing; some of the loudest, most boisterous kids become calmer and focused. They focus their energy on a task in ways they can’t seem to indoors. I have seen quiet, introspective children blossom as they put prior knowledge to use, often surprising their classmates with knowledge of the environment.
When I was growing up, I spent hours in the woods near my house. I would pretend I was an explorer or a pioneer; sometimes I would take friends along on my adventures. Although we have lived in houses and other shelters since prehistoric times, humans have spent a large part of our day outside. It is natural for us to be out in the world, yet these days we seem to spend more time indoors with each passing year.
We are two days into the new school year and this afternoon Ari came home, flopped herself on the couch and said “I’m bored.” You would think there would be a two week grace period or something before that set in. Seeing as we needed to nip it in the bud, I enacted two new rules. The first is the Boring Rule: she can say “I’m bored” once per day; the second time she will be sent outside. The second rule is the Whining Rule: two whines per day maximum before being sent outside. Both rules give Ari an “out” or a chance to slip up without consequence. I’m hoping to encourage her to get outdoors and use her imagination, meet new friends and expend some of her energy (like a typical six year old). When I told her about the rules, she told me “the backyard is fun,” wondering why she was being “punished” and made to go outside. I just gave her a look and she got it. I think I made my point.
I’m hoping these new rules will help get Ari daughter out of the house, but I really want her to find reasons to want to go outside. I have plans for this too! It started last year when she turned six. I allowed her to walk to the nearest park to our house, which is just across the street, and she is within my sight. Starting at the end of Kindergarten, she “graduated” to being allowed to visit two other parks, both within a block of our house and she can stay for 20 minutes before she needed to check-in. This works wonderfully! She enjoys the independence, and since none of the parks are along major roads or are even a very accessible to a street, I feel that she is safe. As she gets older, I will extend the time limit and boundaries to where she can travel on her own.
Ari is also starting Girl Scouts this year. Although we have camped as a family numerous times, she is still very excited at the prospect of hikes and activities with other girls her own age and she’s not old enough to be annoyed at the fact that her mom is the troop leader. I am hoping Girl Scouts will encourage her to spend more time outdoors with friends. Often when we have playdates they center around inside activities.
Just like every family with children, I know raising our girls is a work in progress. I am contented to know we have identified that our kids need to get out of the house and explore nature more. Since knowing is half the battle, does that mean we are already halfway to our solution?