A few weeks ago, on a beautiful fall day, my boys and I biked to a local park to play basketball and climb around on the jungle gym. There were other children also outside and I noticed three boys, about 10 or 11, were huddling around each other staring at a cell phone. They were engrossed. As my boys and I played, these older kids remained hunched over this electronic device for at least another thirty minutes.
This is not what playing outside should look like.
I grew up spending a lot of time outside. I was usually with my sisters or friends, but as I got a older I would occasionally be alone. We would swim, ride our bikes, skateboard, jump on a trampoline, play football, basketball, or capture the flag. We would hike in the creek, build forts, and climb trees. We spent thousands of hours playing outside.
Kids need to be outside, to play, to run, to explore. As a father of two boys, I know this, but sometimes forget. This fall, I was reminded of how beneficial it is for my kids to regularly play outside. Over the course of a few weeks we hiked, biked, played sports, camped, and experienced some natural wonders. It was tremendously joyful for all of us. As a result, we all slept better, ate better, and were generally in a better mood.
Kids need space to run and explore. Inside they have physical boundaries and limitations. Outside they are free to move their bodies with speed and strength. They can push themselves. Outside, they can touch and break most things without much consequence. Inside the house can feel like a museum filled with crystal vases for a young boy full of energy.
The progress of science has demonstrated many benefits to spending more time being active outside. Daily active play for children improves overall health. There are mental benefits from spending time in nature such as taking a hike in the woods. Moderated heat and cold stress both active different pathways benefiting overall health. Exposure to outside light improves vitamin D levels and helps align us to a healthy circadian rhythm.
When kids are outside you get to ask them these questions:
- Want to pick up that stick and break it?
- Want to climb on that rock?
- And jump off?
- Want to run and yell?
- Want to goof off with your friends?
- Want to jump in that puddle?
Do it! What’s the worst that can happen? Your children may get some bumps and bruises and their feelings may get hurt from time to time. They’ll likely get dirty and occasionally ruin some clothes. A few band aids, some soap, and a home cooked dinner can remedy most mishaps that happen outside.
Inside our house the conversation often goes like this:
- Stop running!
- Don’t jump on the furniture!
- Use your inside voice!
- Be careful!
- That could break!
Our world has become too sanitized and controlled. Children benefit from dirt and discomfort. Fortunately, nature provides both.
Our children need to play outside more. Their schedules should allow for regular outdoor play time. The rain, cold, or heat shouldn’t stop them. Kids need to be able to just be kids and being outside is their natural habitat to do so.
Therefore, go buy your children some boots, open the door, and let them be themselves.