Our alarm goes off at 6am every morning, and sometimes we set a second one on a ‘just in case’ basis. This morning we were puzzled by a second alarm we couldn’t locate. Neither of the mobiles had been set, so I was beginning to think we’d had a practical joke played on us. On getting up, we looked out onto our balcony and saw a Great Tit singing its heart out. It was a lovely way to wake up, and a true sign that Spring is here. Have a listen:
There are other signs that Spring is coming. Last night we ate outside. It was quite cold but we managed through gritted smiles. Both children had been outside solidly since coming in from school. H, 12, was practicing somersaults on the trampoline, at one stage asking if he could take out sofa cushions so he could front-somersault off and land on them – err, no you can’t. J, 6, begged to do some gardening, which she loves on the proviso that she’ll get absolutely filthy in the process. She managed it with aplomb.
I’d decided earlier this week that I was going to blog about playing outside – something close to my heart, and had saved a couple of articles as research in preparation. They were pretty depressing because apparently playing outside is now difficult and children ‘don’t know how.’
I suppose things have changed since I was a child, when playing outside was not a choice but an obligation. I was expected to play outside and had freedom to roam over quite a large distance. If I’m honest I don’t let my children have the freedom I had, but I do think it’s really important that children get the benefits (of which there are many) from playing outside.
So, how to get children playing outside?
- Go outside with them and help them initially in a structured activity such as building a den, or making homes for fairies with twigs and pebbles. I love doing the latter, and still believe that I saw fairies at the bottom of my garden as a child. Once they’ve started and are engrossed, you can withdraw.
- Take them somewhere they can roam and explore without you supervising constantly. Any beach is perfect; I’ve often taken a reluctant child to the beach and then can never get them to leave.
- Children love water. Take them to a stream with a net and bucket. Settle back and read your book.
- Have toys outside; a den or playhouse is a great way to encourage playing outdoors and they don’t have to take up much room. Check out our hazel twig tent or hazel wigwam, which will fit in a small garden, or the rather plush pavilion tents from Willow Green. You can see the whole range of dens we stock here.
- Let them go barefoot – my kids run around the garden all day with nothing on their feet.
- Get them gardening – children love growing things and it’s great to get them trying lots of home-grown vegetables.
- Eat outside, picnics are fun even in the garden.
- For older children, consider letting them have a penknife and teach them how to use it safely. I had one and so did my friends. My son is 12 and has one, and is never happier than when whittling.
- Enthuse about nature and the outdoors. I love it when my daughter points out a beautiful sunset. It’s just hardwired into her to appreciate the natural world.
Having read a couple of things about how hard it is to play outside, it was wonderful to come across the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku. It is the concept of forest bathing; by simply being in the forest and experiencing nature, you will feel better. Developed during the 1980s, apparently it has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
I firmly believe you’re doing your child an injustice by not pushing them through the door to do some serious playing outside.
I’m off to stare at some leaves.