Children need to “Go outside and play!”, as our mothers often told us when we were youngsters. The importance for kids to exercise and play outside has been proven time and time again. Research collected by the National Wildlife Federation points to the outdoors for decreasing obesity and ADHD disorders as well as for increasing emotional development, enhancing social interactions, and increasing performance on standardized tests. We can all agree that outside is good, but how do we encourage time away from electronics? Consider the following four ways for children to explore outside.
First, unstructured play develops creativity. Encourage your children to go outside for several hours and entertain themselves rather than play structured games. Send them to the back yard or take them to a state park rather than a jungle gym. There, they will discover new things such as acorns that you or I would consider ordinary, but children find them to be a treasure. At least, that is what the Grimm boys thought while I was taking their picture recently. All children need plenty of time every day to live beyond the structure that school provides and to explore the possibilities that are around them.
Another great way for children to spend time outside is one on one time with an adult. Spend time with them, exploring a park, pond, lake, or any nearby green space. Let the children explore and explain to you what they see and are learning. Ask questions about where they think the item they are observing came from or how it affects the surrounding environment such as how a rock can change the path of a stream or how a catepillar that feeds on a plant affects the health of the plant. Teach them on their level by exploring at their unique pace.
A third way to develop a child’s interest in the outdoors is to grow fruits and vegetables with them. Make a small raised bed out of pavers from your local garden center. Fill it with soil and compost and begin! Try planting lettuce and spinach for a fall garden, or zucchini and summer squash for the summer. Both of these are easy to grow and will give a large quantity of fruit as a result. Other options include planting a peach or apple tree, blueberry or aronia berry shrubs, or strawberries. I remember having asparagus every year since I was a child and helping mom pick. I also have fond memories of helping my brother shell peas. We had competitions on who could shell the most! Good memories. Anyway, all this to say that children find great reward in growing and eating their own food.
Finally, consider starting a craft project that uses materials from nature. I remember painting rocks for an elementary school art project. Use nature materials such as ordinary landscape rocks in new or out of the box ways. Start by allowing the child to pick his or her own rock. Adding this exploration component to the project again brings it back to the child’s pace, and creativity while fostering exercise and movement. There are many online resources to find other craft project ideas.
Now, go forth and explore!