Get Out and Play!

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Kids are spending much less time outside these days.  It used to be that the minute you got home from school you ran outside to play for a while before starting the dreaded homework.

But that was the 80’s.  Things are different today.

Homework has been redefined (several times), and is now more time-consuming than ever.  After school activities easily rival the hours of full-time employment for some kids.

And then there’s that little matter of technology.  Screen time is sucking the energy out of our children

Don’t get me wrong.  I am in favor of some TV time and even some educational iPad apps.  Kids need to de-stress and check out.  In moderation.

But for some kids, screen time trumps nature.  That’s not a good thing.

Research shows that kids who log more outside hours are happier, healthier, and stronger.  They also laugh more often and experience less stress (lower blood pressure). 

Research also shows that children who do not get enough outside time are more likely to have attention issues, aggressive behaviors, lethargy and other symptoms of Depression, and are at an increased risk for obesity.

There’s even a term for it: Nature Deficit Disorder, coined by Richard Louv.

This is unacceptable.

We are spoiled here in Los Angeles.  We are outside pretty much every day, even on the rainy ones.  We often start our days with a “pajama walk” and end them with ten minutes of extra backyard play before the bath.

I am just as dependent on the fresh air and sunshine as my kids are.  A cranky day is easily turned around simply by removing the sandbox cover.  And digging in the garden is a daily occurrence.  It’s good for the soul…

Below are some reasons to get out and play:

1.    Increases Gross & Fine Motor Skills:  When you move your body, and you have more space to do it, you work on your gross & fine motor skills.  Digging in dirt and sand, stirring dirt and water, gardening, burying small objects and digging them up, running, jumping, hula hooping, and swinging a bat are all excellent places to start.  Once they get moving, they won’t want to stop!

2.    Increases Creativity & Imagination:  My kids are constantly playing pretend and creating something out of nothing.  Although they love to play dress up, imaginary play can easily be moved outside.  Build bug hotels, create duck ponds, bake mud pies, and get into character before heading out on a safari walk.  The possibilities are endless, and the kids will have a blast.

3.    Explore Science:  Learning from a book is great, but learning in nature is even better.  Search for bugs, butterflies, worms, and snails.  Explore their habitats.  Compare what they eat and how they work.  Check out Science for Preschoolers for other activities that you can incorporate into your outside play.

4.    Math Concepts:  Liam loves math.  Loves it.  He is constantly counting and adding and subtracting.  At 3 ½, he has found his calling!  Collect sticks, rocks, fallen flower petals, branches, etc.  Sort them by size, shape, and object.  Count them together.  Preschoolers love to organize and count.  Just the other day, the kids spent the afternoon helping with the tree trimming.  They sorted the branches and carried them to the curb together.  They loved every second of it.

5.    Promotes Problem Solving & Togetherness:  When you take away all of the toys, noises, and craft kits, kids are challenged to create their own fun.  When playing outside without any structure, kids will work together to create their own fun.  They rely on their imagination and will use objects found in nature as props.  That’s problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, and working together all wrapped up in one.  Does it get any better than that?

6.    Exercise:  We all know that kids are not getting as much exercise as they once did.  Many PE programs have been cut or minimized in public schools.  Prioritize fresh air and exercise (which does not have to be an organized sport) to keep your kids healthy.  Yes, academics are important.  But if your children aren’t healthy, they won’t perform well in school.  Strike a balance and get them outside.

What are your favorite outside activities?

About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)