Outdoor Play, Everyday!

outdoor play

I hate it when I don’t take my own advice with the kids, especially when it involves one of my “soapboxes”.  This is one of those instances.  Professionally, I receive numerous requests to consult with parents and teachers regarding behavior and academic problems in children.  Over the past decade I’ve observed hundreds of classrooms in many different schools.  I often find myself fidgeting while observing lengthy lectures in elementary classrooms and think to myself, “I can’t sit still this long, why are KIDS expected to do so?!?!”  For behavior problems (e.g. off task behavior, verbal or physical aggression, fidgeting) I always recommend additional opportunities for sensory motor activity.  I’ve advocated for hyperactive children to get additional recess, or at least extra opportunities to move during their day.

When school staff uses removal of recess as a consequence I’ve encouraged them to at least consider what I dubbed “alternative recess” where the child is not permitted to use the playground, but instead can exercise, run laps, walk the perimeter of the playground, etc. to avoid making them sit still.  When teachers are told they cannot provide more than 15 minutes of recess per day, but struggle with behavior problems, I encourage them to sneak physical activity into their lessons.  Some teachers take breaks between lesson and lead in classroom exercises while others take the class outdoors for lessons.  In order for children to be ready and able to attend and follow directions, they require adequate physical activity.   This year I cringed as I overheard a kindergarten teacher announce “You won’t get recess tomorrow if you are hyper like this again!  You can’t handle recess.”  and when another teacher opted for indoor recess because it was “too cold” (it was about 50 degrees and sunny).  Kids are not equipped to remain still and quiet indoors for long periods of time, and there are ramifications when adults expect it.

During the heat of the summer, I took the kids for walks around the neighborhood and we played in the front or back yard at least once per day if not more.  If it was miserably hot, we used water to keep things comfortable, or ate cold snacks like watermelon and popsicles.  Sometime around October I mentally thought it was too late in the season to do water play and put all the water toys away, but it was still HOT here.  There was less daylight at that time too and the rain came.  It must’ve been about that time of year that we stopped playing outside daily.  We got into a rut of indoor play and being quite lazy.  When the holidays came, we over indulged in television.

No surprise, the kids weren’t napping well and were often cranky.  DUH!  They didn’t get adequate physical activity and outdoor play.  Since having that “ah-ha” moment, I’ve made a conscious effort to take the kids outside to play at least once, if not twice daily.  If it’s cold or damp, we dress for the weather and find few legitimate excuses to stay inside.    The kids typically balk and fuss about going outside, but once they start playing they forget they wanted to stay indoors then fuss when playtime ends.

Outside, the kids have noticed shapes in the clouds, experienced static electricity, and “cooked” meals using garden harvests.

Sasha has enjoyed sunbathing again and the chicks found plenty of bugs to nosh.

Our play equipment has been enjoyed again.

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The American Heart Association recommends that children two and older get at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily.

One of the major reasons we moved from our old house was for a yard with ample space for play equipment, a garden, kids to run freely, and to house backyard chickens.   We’ve invested quite a bit in the yard to make it a sanctuary for our family and it must be used every single day.  Since getting back outdoors, the kid’s behavior has improved.  They sleep better, are in better moods, are using their imaginations, and are learning.  I’m reaping these benefits and so are the furry and feathered members of our family.  Outdoor time serves us well!  Sometimes it takes a little effort to get kids dressed for outdoor play, but it’s always worthwhile.


 

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