Why Playing Outside is so Important

Why is it important that our children connect with nature? Why should they experience playing outdoors instead of in a rink or community centre? It’s a question we need to consider.

Introduce Your Kids to Nature.

I was a skinny teenager, all angles and bones. I weighed about 98 pounds soaking wet.

One summer I was a junior camp counselor and took on a special project.   Along with interested campers I identified a plateau in the bush, looking out over the lake.   A perfect spot, I figured, to sit and contemplate nature.   A perfect spot for a chapel.

Now I need to add that I was not only a skinny little thing, I was not very strong and tended to be marginally clumsy. But, I knew what I wanted and over the weeks built the chapel using flat-sided logs as seats. Every spare moment was spent digging, hauling and organizing the space. I don’t think I was totally clean for weeks.

It was one of my most amazing accomplishments. One evening, I led the parade of all the campers and staff to our new chapel. It was dusk and we set candles on sticks and let them float out over the lake. It was a magical moment.

And I wonder would it have happened today? Would I, a skinny urban teenager be connected enough to nature to want to do all that work in order to simply sit and look out over the lake? Would I choose to engage in grubby and hard work just for a dream?

I was a city kid and today I am a thoroughly urban woman. But when I tote up my accomplishments to date, this in always on the list. So how did it happen or more importantly, why is it so unlikely that it would happen again?

And the answer is simple. I played outdoors. Even if I chose to simply sit and read I would do it resting my back against the broad and supportive trunk of the big maple tree in our yard. I dug in the sand, swung high over the raspberry canes, climbed trees and raced up and down the block with the other kids.

Today, I would be sitting in front of the computer or hanging out at the mall. If I were outside I would be engaged in a structured and organized activity. Neither of which is necessarily bad, but they don’t allow for a personal connection with nature. Certainly not a connection that would lead to the building of the chapel in the woods on the edge of the lake.

Think about how your kids can connect with nature. Ironically they are probably aware of many natural phenomena such as climate change, flooding or drought, farmed versus wild salmon or the concerns about the low bird count this year.

But while they care about these things, it’s primarily academic.

Our kids need to get some dirt under their nails. To feel the earth, to experience nature in a natural way and to challenge themselves at the park, in the bush or even in their own back yards.

It’s interesting to watch the National Hockey League outdoor winter classic each year. It’s a regular hockey game but it played outdoors, in winter. Wow! The joy was in watching the players. They became excited kids; they recalled their days of playing on the local outdoor rink or pond when they were growing up. Sidney Crosby, a Nova Scotia native and an NHL star who played in the game said: “Growing up, I played a lot outside. When you see 70,000 people jammed into a stadium to watch hockey, it’s a good sign. The atmosphere and environment, I don’t think you can beat that.” And during the game all the commentators started reminiscing about their childhood experiences.

Being outdoors is just different. For example, swimming in pools is nice but getting into a lake, river or the ocean is completely different. It’s more real. We’re connected with the natural environment for swimming.

Give your kids the gift of nature. Start with your yard or neighbourhood. Let them explore in their own way. Maybe your child will choose to squat on the lawn and watch a parade of ants returning home. Or you’ll see her roll around, feeling the grass all over her body. Or he’ll find a tree to climb.

Then go to the local park and let them decide what to do. Expand to the beach, to larger parks and nature centres.

It’s not difficult. Just find places that are outdoors, dress the kids in clothing that can get dirty and will keep them warm and reasonably dry and let them go.

We live surrounded by nature. Let’s send our kids out to play.

A Few Things Happening with Parenting Today

I am almost finished planning a trip Calgary Alberta in May. If you want to take advantage of this trip and save on travel costs, call now. You may want to hold a professional development workshop, a parenting presentation or a Beyond Childcare event. It’s a great opportunity to offer quality parenting information without the extra expenses. I look forward to hearing from you.

For those who plan way ahead I will be in Washington state and Oregon in June 2011 and in Ontario and New England in late September and early October of 2011.

Contact me and let me know whether you would like a Beyond Childcare workshop, a professional development event or a parent keynote. I’d love to be able to take advantage of the fact that I am in your town and can offer you quality parenting information.

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