I vividly remember the time I spent playing on my swing in the backyard as a very young child. To this day I could draw you the most accurate layout of my childhood backyard because I spent so much time there and also because that was where my heart was clear and happy. As I got older the activities changed, from swinging to trampoline to walking the family dog, but that clear feeling in my head and heart remained.
My daughter must have inherited my love for the outdoors because she has been crawling out the doggy door since a year old. Many times it has been cold and I have had to chase after her with shoes and a jacket. Her love for freedom and the outdoors may lead to a CPS call in our future (but I promise I can see her from the window!)
So this going outside thing isn't just me and my wild toddler. There has been a lot of research on our human connection with nature. Not only is it important for children to spend unplanned time outside, but the benefits continue into adulthood. I have been at a job where I am at a desk all day under florescent lights and by the end of the day I felt drained. My mind and body felt less alert and more stressed. There are real benefits to that window spot in the office.
So I encourage you to find your sweet spot outdoors. This could be playing near water, walking on trails, biking, camping, sitting by the fire pit or just enjoying company on the porch. I hope you feel the clearness in your heart also.
Below are some tips on getting outside and the benefits we are able to gain.
- Exercise and increased activity. This may seem obvious, but children and adults move more and use a greater range of muscles while in the outdoors. This helps keep weight down and chronic illnesses from creeping up on us. My toddler gets to practice her new developing motor skills while running, jumping, climbing, pushing, and pulling. Older kids can create many games of chasing and throwing with just some balls. Adults move their body in ways that can’t happen at the desk when they are gardening, doing yard work or playing with the dog. My suggestion is to invest in a few key items that can be used in many different ways. This includes a few balls of different sizes, a ride on toy, a push toy and some type of outdoor climbing or slide. Then let the imagination take over.
- Being outside gives the opportunity for learning. Cognitive and social/emotional development are impacted. Outside, children are more likely to invent games. As they do, they're able to express themselves and learn about the world in their own way. Toddlers through teens get to practice communication, and creativity while playing outside. Just going outside during snack time or to drink coffee can lead to creative ideas and games. So to increase time spent outside just take what you normally do and move outdoors.
- Sunshine therapy. Just having the sun on your face each day has many benefits. Any parent can appreciate a child that sleeps better and daily sunshine improves sleep. Sunlight increases serotonin, and also produces vitamin D, which are both mood enhancers. More happiness and better sleep; sign me up!
- Don’t be scared of the weather. We experience different senses when exposed to different climates; winter snow is beautiful and calming, rain is fun to run through, and wind can be exhilarating. You may have to change your schedule or layer your clothes, but try to make the effort for some time outside when it is humanly possible. Especially with small children the idea of gearing up to go outside can be daunting. I have daily negotiations with my toddler about wearing a jacket. You would think I am trying to torture her by the way she runs when the jacket is presented. I am not above bribery during these scenarios.