Many mothers today are not accustomed to sending their kids outside to play. This is clearly part of a generational shift, as most young moms remember being outside all the time as children, yet are now not encouraging the same thing in their children.
This is a real loss. There are so many benefits to kids playing outside! I’m sure tons of real research has been done on this issue, but even a non-scientist such as myself can easily come up with a list of benefits:
Playing Outside is Great Exercise.
This is the obvious one, and it doesn’t just impact cardiovascular health and combat childhood obesity; Well exercised kids sleep better! I wake my kids up from their nap at 4 or 4:30pm and expect them to go to bed at 7. The only way that’s going to happen is if they burn of a TON of energy in those short two and half hours.
Playing Outside Wins the Screen Time Battle.
It’s no secret I hate the pervasiveness of screen time in the lives of both kids and adults. The more time goes on, the more my distaste for it grows. Sending kids outside removes screen time as a temptation because they are too busy playing to ask for a show.
Playing Outside Reduces Mess
The outdoors offers hours of play with little to no clean up beyond a much needed bath. The cleanest family home is the one with the children outside of it.
Playing Outside Forces Creativity and Spurs Imagination.
We have a few things outside for our children to “do” – a slide on the back hill, a tire swing, a cozy coupe, etc., but left to themselves, they mostly just invent their own method of play. They look for rocks, sword fight with sticks, and pick bouquets of “flowers” (WEEDS). And sometimes, they just sit there BORED. Boredom is not bad. It’s good for kids to experience some boredom once in a while because when they tire of being bored, they use their imagination to come up with something fun to do!
Playing Outside Fosters Independence.
I take my kids to the park frequently, and as much as I try to sit a little distance back and let them play without me hovering, I cannot reproduce the level of independence they have when they are free to roam the yard and I am occupied inside. This independence is GOOD. It promotes problem solving and instills self-confidence. Let’s say they climb part way up a tree and are scared to climb down. At the park, they see me and call my name for help. At home, they sit there stuck until they confront their fear and strategize a way to get down. Problem solving this way grows their confidence. It feels good to handle problems independently!
Playing Outside Teaches Interpersonal Skills.
As a mother, I believe it is my responsibility to teach my kids the art of getting along – of treating each other with respect, feeling empathy, apologizing when necessary, and seeking forgiveness for wrongs committed. Inside the home, I do not allow my kids to hit or fight with each other – when I see it, I intervene. That said, I also think it’s important for kids to learn to deal with squabbles on their own. I have no plans to follow them around in life mediating problems, so at some point they must learn to handle these situations. Playing outside is a great forum for this precisely because I am not there to intervene. If one child offends the other, it’s up to them to work it out. I teach them the skills to manage conflict in the home and give the opportunity to practice those skills outside the home.
Playing Outside Works Wonders on Bad Attitudes.
Yesterday my older two woke up from their nap in a FUNK. I told them to go outside and not come back until they decided to be cheerful. An hour later they came in for dinner like totally different little people. Oh the impact some fresh air can make!
Playing Outside Gives Moms a Break.
Honestly, who enjoys cooking dinner with kids running through the house hollering? No one. It’s okay (and good!) for moms to give themselves a quiet moment by sending the children outside for an hour or two. Using these times to do something productive reaps the benefit of being able to focus more fully on the children once they do come inside.
So you agree. Kids playing outside is good. The benefits are undeniable.
“But my kids hate playing outside!”, you say.
Send ’em out there anyway.
There are lots of things kids hate that we make them do for their benefit. Some hate taking baths. Some hate getting buckled into a car seat. Some hate taking naps. Every child hates getting shots. The fact that they don’t like makes it no less worthwhile. In our home, going outside isn’t an option and it’s not presented as a choice.
And really, I think the large majority of cases, parents will find that if they force their children to go outside regularly – if it becomes part of the daily routine – the kids grow to love it. In the beginning you may have a couple of children sobbing at your back door to come inside, but with time they will run out there willingly. Is this not the case with many things?
Lastly, a note on the weather. We live in Southern California, so there are no days unsuitable for playing outside. Call me crazy, but I even send them out there in the rain! I realize there are places where severe weather makes daily outside play unreasonable for multiple months of the year. In those cases, you obviously must be diligent to make sure that your child is getting enough exercise and independent play time. But just because the weather is unsuitable in the winter doesn’t mean they should get a free pass all year long. The other seasons provide ample opportunity for outdoor play.
It’s sad to me that so few kids are made to play outside anymore. My best childhood memories are from playing outside. What a disservice we are doing by not fostering this in the current generation.
Do your yourself and your children a favor.
Send ’em outside.