Backyard Playdate and the Importance of Outdoor Play
I often say “I grew up outdoors” when talking about my childhood. That phrase captures fully the experiences I remember. From camping in the mountains with my dad during the summer to racing snails down the gutter during rainstorms, most of my favorite memories of being a kid involve outdoor play. I loved discovering the world and getting to know nature up close. It follows, then, that I have all the same hopes for my kids and their precious childhoods. In fact, our decision to move to Texas was weighted heavily by the idea of wanting to be able to play outdoors all year round, and have a yard where we could let the kids explore.
The Goodness of Fresh Air
Did you know only 30% of kids play outside regularly? So, something is happening to keep kids indoors. Over-scheduling, technology, and homework are three things that immediately come to mind as barriers to outdoor play. Even knowing the importance of getting the kids outside, I can fall into the ease of keeping them contained inside, and have had to be intentional about creating space in our daily schedule for them to get out and run around.
Why is it worth it to make time for outdoor play? There are a lot of reasons, but chief among them for me are these three:
- Outdoor play encourages problem solving, creativity, and enhances learning development. Kids who spend some time outside playing can start to make connections about cause and effect, and are able to clear out the clutter of overstimulation caused by seated learning and screen time. Going outside is like a hard reset for their brains and allow a break from traditional learning, while creating space for new information to sink in.
- Outdoor play improves health and wellness. Fresh air, moving muscles, and a little vitamin D from the sunshine are all critical pieces of general health and wellness. When the kids get out to run around they get a hearty dose of all three, let out some energy and always come back inside happier than before.
- Outdoor play connects the kids to the reality of nature and the world as it really is. In a world where so much is experienced virtually– tv shows, learning apps, social media, face time with family– getting outside allows kids a real experience in the real world. Digging in the dirt, feeling wind on their faces, hunting for bugs, and gathering wildflowers. These are real experiences, and they can build confidence and self-worth in a way that virtual experiences can not.
Interestingly enough, these points are as valid for adults as they are for kids! I know I always feel better after spending time on a walk around the neighborhood or even after sitting out on the porch watching the kids ride bikes. Sometimes we all need an outdoor escape to bring some perspective back into our lives.
Working it into the Schedule
Our regular after school schedule involves the kids getting an after school snack then heading outside for some free play time to help burn off the energy from sitting still at school. It helps them reset and feel ready to then focus on homework, reading, and getting ready for lessons and activities.
Last week, we hosted a fun backyard play date with some friends from the neighborhood. Everyone came over and started running free around the yard, as they do. They kids jumped on the trampoline–which is one of my very favorite backyard toys. The kids use it daily, and it has been one of the best investments we’ve made in the yard! We also have bats and balls, nerf guns, bouncy toys, buckets and shovels, the teepee, and a mini rollercoaster set up in the yard for the kids to use during free time. The more they have to help encourage their entertainment and imagination, the better.
I had also grabbed some large faux autumn leaves at the store earlier in the day, thinking they’d be fun for the kids to play with. Leaves in Texas start turning late November, rather than in September like most of the country, and it was fun to see the kids start to spot them scattered about the yard and begin collecting them up. They oohed and ahhed at the colors and loved counting and playing with them.
After a few minutes of playing, I gathered everyone over for some after school snacks. Fresh fruit, crackers and cheese, veggies, and our favorite snack bars, CLIF Kid ZBars, plus the CLIF Kid Zfruit ropes that my kids think are a special treat. I discovered the Zbars when my kids were little, and we’ve been buying them ever since. I love how in addition to being organic and free of high fructose corn syrup they’re super delicious and they don’t fall apart when the kids eat them! They’re all the parenting wins wrapped into one perfectly portioned kid snack. And I totally eat them as often as my kids do because they’re so good.
While the boys climbed trees, the girls colored with sidewalk chalk and I ran around helping everyone stay safe and happy. I can’t help but feel like these are the days of my kids life. Their childhood is literally unfolding before my eyes and the experiences I help them create now will be the memories they have forever. I’m committed to those memories including lots of outside play and adventures, both on their own running around the yard after school, and with their dad and me as we take them camping in the desert and hiking in the hill country.
How do you like to get outside and play with your kids? What are some of your favorite memories playing outside as a kid yourself?