I love the outdoors. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love being outside. As a child I’d play out in the garden – rain, sun, snow – all weathers were suitable.
In gym class, I used to prefer playing football and doing athletics in the rain. I think it felt more grown up to be allowed to get soaked while under adult supervision.
I read recently that many kids today don’t get enough outdoor play. This can have serious repercussions on their future development, skills, co-ordination and health.
A recent survey of parents showed that more than a quarter of kids play outside for less than 30 minutes a week (read the full article here).
Now my kids are growing up, we get outside whenever we can. Where? We’re not fussy: The park, garden, woods or even mountains.
However, outdoor play can be a challenge. Once you increase variables such as weather, rough ground and wild animals (ever met a Glasgow squirrel????), things can get complicated with young children.
So how can you make sure you get the most out of the outdoors and have a blast at the same time.
Have a Plan
I have to admit, I’m not really a planning type. I like to try stuff and see what happens. Sometimes this is useful and productive. Other times – not so much.
Outdoor play is definitely an activity that can benefit from having some sort of plan. I’m not talking about a lesson plan – it’s not meant to be school. But it’s helpful to have some kind of idea what you want to do – especially if you’re going to be leading the play (not always necessary – keep reading to find out more).
Here are some ideas:
Do some light, age appropriate bushcraft or survival skills. When I say ‘age appropriate’, I mean knife skills or fire lighting might not be suitable for under threes. But things like shelter building are. See if there are bushcraft classes in your area. Outdoor skills are useful if you’re in the market for building resilient boys.
Build shelters and houses in the woods out of logs and branches. This can be done by kids from a young age. Mine are nearly 2 and 4 and had a blast building a house for the Gruffalo (a children’s book character).
Hide and Seek is an easy option for parks, woods and even your own back garden and young kids will love it. Toddlers will need help with hiding and counting.
Don’t Have a Plan
Here’s a thought: Your kids don’t always want you hovering over them like some kind of over protective Mummy-Eagle.
Sometimes they want to play undisturbed by adults – to fight their own battles and settle disputes between each other without adult intervention or mediation.
I know this must come as a blow – that you’re surplus to requirements – but you need to accept it. And their mother does too.
Whenever I’m in the park or out with the kids I see parents standing poised with their kids making sure NOTHING goes wrong.
What they don’t know is that I trained as a Playground Safety Inspector (yes that’s a real thing). In my training, I was taught this shocking fact:
Falling and pain are a part of active play and teach children about co-ordination, balance and perseverance.
The best thing about this approach is that you don’t have to a thing. Just sit and keep an ear out.
Oh, and pack a first aid kit just in case.
Incorporate Rough Play
If you’ve read my site for long you’ll know that I’m a big fan of rough play especially for boys (but girls can enjoy it too).
I wrote a popular post on the subject which you can read here.
Imagine a world where rough play was banned. It would suck wouldn’t it?
There would be a lot of messed up boys who didn’t know how to physically express themselves or their emotions. Emotional Intelligence is just about sitting in a circle talking about ‘Feel-Feels’ (sorry, child psychology).
The outdoor environment is the perfect place to incorporate rough play. Think about it:
No furniture to break
No ornaments to smash
No neighbours to think you’re torturing spies in your front room
Sometimes I’ll just take a rugby ball to the park and mess around with my son. We’re not really playing rugby – but it will be rough. The ball is secondary to the fun we’ll be having.
Which leads me on to my final tip…
The use of props (sticks, balls, hoops or whatever you having lying around) can really add different dimensions to outdoor play sessions.
In the garden, a few buckets, balls and sticks can entertain kids for a long time. Remember: you might have to speak to the neighbours to ask for the ‘Super High Bouncy Ball’ back.
And they already think you’re weird with your obsessive lawn care regime and pipe smoking on summer evenings (this could just be me though).
In the woods, props are all around. You could take a small folding spade and make some fortifications – but always check with the landowner before you dig in any woods.
Take balls, kites, hoops, frisbees and boomerangs to the park. All of these are a lot of fun, and burn off plenty of your kids pent up energy as well as a fair few calories for you.
When I hear about the lack of outdoor play some kids get, I actually feel sadness for them but mostly pity for their parents. They are missing out on A LOT of fun
Outdoor play is cheap, easy, great exercise and wears your kids out – what’s not to love?
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