Guest post by Amanda! Amanda is a mother of two, a special eduction teacher in NYC, and a certified holistic health coach. She writes and shares about motherhood, conscious parenting, and early learning / education in an effort to connect, inspire, and enlighten women and their families all over the world. She'd love for you to join her in her journey by following her on Instagram and Facebook, or you can visit her website here.
Preface from Jana / Modern Rascals - we are fortunate to have the flexibility to pick the kids up from school most days. They spend 4/5 days playing outside after school, year-round, in all weather. The run, play, slide, swing, climb trees (and more trees), sled, jump in puddles and more. This time allows them to decompress after school and move their bodies, and we are all much happier for it!
If I could stand on top of a mountaintop and whisper into the wind a message to all parents right this very minute, it would be this: prioritize ensuring your children have time to play outdoors every single day. We all know fresh air is good for us, but its benefits go beyond just the sniff of a crackling fire in the winter or the sweet beaches of summer—for children, and arguably especially for the children of today’s technologically dependent times, spending time playing outdoors in nature is vital for their cognitive, neurological, emotional, physical, AND social development.
As a special education teacher in NYC (and a mom of two little children), I have grown increasingly aware (and concerned) of the alarming increase in the need for academic, occupational, and socio-emotional intervention and support in schools occurring virtually simultaneously as a dramatic decrease in children’s opportunities to experience natural, unstructured (by adults), active free play outside. In addition, over the years I’ve spent a significant amount of time monitoring both recess and physical education classes and I couldn’t help but notice that many children—not all, but many—struggle with basic skills such as running, tossing a ball back and forth, or even coming up with something to do during recess time.
It’s become evident to me that not only are children suffering from the lack of opportunities to play outside, but they are also suffering from a lack of “know-how” to play outside. Unfortunately, this can—and more often than not, does—translate into difficulty concentrating in school, struggles in developing needed fine and gross motor skills, and hindrance in building socio-emotional skills. These skills include effective communication with friends and teammates, sound problem-solving strategies, and positive self-regulation strategies, such as taking a walk, deep breaths, or doing something independently for a little while.
So what can we do to help our children of today?
Well, we certainly can petition for more recess time in schools (before and during school), but there are some things we can do at home starting right now. I know, I know…our schedules are over-packed, our to-do lists are unending, and if you’re like me, you might be in a neighborhood where you feel like your kids will be ranked among the masses from the time they are 2 until, well, the end of time. The pressure to sign up for activities around where I live starts before kids turn two; the fear of them “falling behind” their peers is hard to escape. The work-life balance for moms these days is nearly unmanageable for most and moms who stay home inevitably feel even more pressure to “do all the things” and “go all the places” with their kids. And as the kids grow, more and more “free time” is taken up by practices, homework, activities, and other binding commitments for long periods of time.
My point here is not to say extra-curricular activities are “bad” by any means (my daughter LOVES her dance class), but rather to urge you to take a step back and evaluate what you want to prioritize. Are we getting so caught up in the hustle and bustle of our demanding lives that carving out specific time to play outside is falling to the back burner? If we are, we need to think twice and perhaps change some things around. (Though, trust me, I know, this is much easier said than done.)
Why is it so important that we make time for being outside?
Free play in nature has so many benefits for young children (including babies) all the way through teenage years, young adulthood, and of course adulthood as well. For starters, simply being present in a form of nature—whether it be a creek, the woods, or the beach—is scientifically proven to be grounding and calming. We generally know this to be true as adults, but it is important to understand that the same is true for children. So many parents of children I teach (and myself included) report that their children are so much calmer, regulated, and happier when they spend a significant amount of time playing outdoors as opposed to spending it inside.
Spending time outside is also good for sparking imagination and encouraging children to actively feel and push past the feeling of boredom. We need to step away from constantly providing entertainment for our kids and presenting them with something to do; children are inherently creative souls, that is, until that chance is repeatedly taken away from them. Moreover, playing outside lends itself to helping children develop gross motor skills and to receive the much needed sensory input so many kids these days are desperate for. Children also establish social skills, problem-solving skills, and risk-taking skills through play.
It is also important to note that kids generally learn best through trial and error as opposed to parent instilled fear, lecturing and monitoring. They fall from a shaky tree branch once and they’ll be sure to test it better the next time. Allowing children to roam outside (in safe spaces) with other children gives them chances to learn about their own limits, to feel a wide range of feelings, and to deepen their sense of self and stature within this enormous world we live in—all invaluable lessons that are surely better learned first-hand than passed down.
How do we do it?
For me, it has helped to reframe my perspective around getting outside every day with my kids. We live in an apartment building, so I need to physically go outside with them and take them either to the beach or a park nearby. In the summer, I have no problem doing this, but unfortunately, I am not a winter lover by any means. So, to help foster a love of all weather in my children, I started to think of this time outside as a necessary, vital box on our “list” for each day that needed to be crossed off—just like eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Do I always want to go outside in the cold of winter? Nope. Do I want to spend 5,235 minutes getting my children dressed to go outside every day? No way. But, do I ever regret it? Honestly, I haven’t yet at all. Not once.
Here are a few things that helped.
First, it is important—if not crucial—to have the appropriate gear. Actually, this was a huge game-changer for me. I have spent years “willing winter away” by wearing too thin coats and relying solely on the heat of my car to keep me warm. But, after doing some research, I discovered some of the lines of clothing that are offered here at Modern Rascals and I started to get excited about the possibilities. I thought, “Imagine playing outside with the kids and being so warm and well-covered that the cold wouldn’t even bother us?” The cold weather gear sold at Modern Rascals is so key to getting outside I can’t stress it enough; it will change everything. Before investing in any of that though, I set my eyes on their rain gear options since my children are obsessed with jumping in puddles. What I love most about our CeLaVi suits from MR is that they are great for almost any season. When it is super cold and wet, you can layer warm weather gear underneath for cooler days and when you don’t need to, you can just throw on the easy-to-wear suits (that come in so many amazing colors.) I should also add that they also have a stunning supply of warm weather gear that is worth checking out as well!
Second, pencil it in. I mentioned this earlier, but truly making time outside something you have to stick to helps to get it done. At first it may seem more like work than enjoyment, but once you start to see that your kids are happier, they’re sleeping better, and they’re learning more, it will start to bother you less and you might even look forward to it. (Can you tell I am talking about myself here?)
Third, trust the process. Try to clear out the noise and the pressure to be “busy” all the time and trust that giving your children downtime to play is truly important. That said, once they learn to play independently, you’ll also score a bit more downtime into your own schedule—so really, it’s a win-win. They might ask to come inside right away some days. They might have to go to the bathroom immediately after they’ve bundled up or got that bathing suit all wet. They might fall and get hurt or get into a disagreement (or ten) with a sibling…but remember, when you take a step back and look at all of these things for what they are, you’ll start to realize that this. is. living. These are real life problems that happen to real life people—even children—and by providing them opportunities to experience and solve and learn through these situations, we are also providing care, guidance, education and love.
So, go outside and play. And enjoy some fresh air!