The Power and Importance of Play: Outdoor Play
“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, our own).” —Richard Louv, author, Last Child in the Woods
This is the second in a series of occasional posts I have planned about of the importance of play. Summer is a great time to talk about outdoor play and how important it is for children—and also the perfect time to get outside and play.
Many grandparents will recall playing outdoors much of the time during their childhood. I myself was one of those kids who came in when the street lights came on! I was always playing outdoors: running and climbing, inventing games with my friends, exploring nature. Even in winter months I would play outside: building snow forts, making snow angels, throwing snowballs, exploring icicles, and going sledding. My love of the outdoors continued into my teen years, when I worked at outdoor camps for kids.
Times are certainly different now, with kids spending less time outdoors and more times with screens. But the outdoors still awaits our grandchildren, offering fun, creativity, and discovery. There has been much research on the benefits of being outdoors in terms of emotional and cognitive rewards. For example, being outdoors and moving our bodies helps us stay physically fit; the sights and sounds of nature can help with anxiety and depression; connecting with nature nurtures creativity and sense of wonder. Just think about how you feel after taking a quick walk outdoors—it can be completely mood changing! The same goes for our grands.
As a teacher, I always made sure my students got their scheduled recess time, but I also tried to get them outdoors any other time I could. We would take those opportunities to move our bodies, listen to a read aloud, or look for patterns and sounds in nature. It was rejuvenating in so many ways, and we would return to the classroom ready to learn both with our bodies and minds.
So, what are some fun ideas and activities we can do with our grandchildren outdoors? They can be as simple as pushing them on a swing, going for a walk, or jumping in puddles after a rainstorm. A great thing about outdoor play is that you can decide how simple or scripted it can be. A few ideas could be:
Scavenger hunt for items in nature
Go to a pick-your-own farm to pick berries or flowers
Go for a walk or hike
Do water play outside, with containers for measuring and pouring
Make a rock sculpture
Do any type of gardening—even weed pulling!
Play in the mud—yes, really!
The education staff at Discovery Museum has recently put together several resources to guide families in outdoor play and outline some of the health benefits. Check out 40 Ideas for Outdoor Fun and Nature and Your Health. And you can find LOTS of other ideas of things to do outdoors in the Backyard and Beyond section of the Discovery at Home web page—in six different languages!
I have been thinking about outdoor play a lot these past couple of weeks as I gear up for Year 2 of Camp Gigi! I will be taking a different approach this year so stay tuned for details as the summer unfolds.
Now, I'd love to hear from you! What are your favorite activities to do with your grandchildren outdoors? How do you think being outdoors affects your grandchildren? What, if any, differences do you see in them after being outdoors? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.