In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace. | Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods
There’s a reason why it has coined the name ‘the GREAT outdoors’ and a reason why young children always seem to be happier when they are there. Outdoor play and exploring in nature are not only contributing to a child’s physical development. Playing outside supports all areas of development including fostering creativity and the imagination, strengthening problem solving skills, enhanced cognitive ability, and reduced stress and anxiety. Children also deserve more than just climbing, swinging and sliding on playground structures. They need unstructured and uncontrolled play in a safe, natural environment all year long – regardless of the season, weather or temperature. So let’s all ditch the excuses and do what is best for our children!
This is why, at tlb, we request that our students come dressed prepared for the elements. Its unfortunate that some schools do a disservice to children and do not take them outside because the weather is inclement. More often than not, when it is rainy (and sometimes it can feel like the rain doesn’t surpass for days) the children stay inside for what they call “indoor recess”. If they do go out when it is damp, children are commanded and rewarded for staying out of puddles and staying dry. Where is the fun in that? Also, guess what?
Children never tire of playing in and with water.
They experiment with it, study it, attempt to control it, splash in it, and feel it soak their socks or pants or shoes. Perhaps one of the most beloved fashion accessories of a child is a pair of rubber rain boots. Jenn explains, “I love to send my girls outside in any season with rain boots and garden tools to dig in dirt. I just sent them out the other afternoon when they were going crazy inside. It’s honestly hard for me to watch them get dirty because I subconsciously start planning my cleanup strategy, but I make an effort to shake that off and get present with them in the moment and watch how cool their play and discovery is. Finding a worm is like finding gold. Finding a rock is like finding treasure. Then all of a sudden mud pies look delicious! The girls completely get lost in their play. If you don’t have a backyard, a big tub of dirt outside works too.” We see it as our special mission as early childhood educators to spend as much time in the sun, rain and snow as we can. We know how important it is for ALL OF US. As Ranulph Fiennes profoundly said, “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”
The same goes for when it is cold or snowing. Even on the bleakest of days, if children are dressed appropriately they will happily stay outside for hours. Make it fun! Thinking back, Jenn remembered, “When Mia was 3 we had a lot of snow that winter. She and her dad would make little snowmen and she would dress them up in her dress up clothes. So she created pirate snowmen, princess snowmen and fire fighter snowmen. It was so creative!” Usually only adults are the ones who are bothered. Bundle up in layers so if your children get hot, it’s easy to take something off. The key is to make sure your child’s heads, hands and feet are warm because this will keep the rest of them warm too. hats that cover the ears, waterproof gloves or mittens and wool socks are great options. They also sell inexpensive hand warmers at many convenience stores. They work for hours in your pockets and your kids will think they are the coolest things ever once they get out to play!
Here are some tips for getting your family out of your apartment, to the park, or better yet, out of the city for the day!…
Plant a Seed. If you already have a garden, this one is easy. All you need is a little piece of dirt or a container to get started. Simply allow your child to pick out a flower, fruit, or vegetable of their very own and plant it in a suitable location. Encourage children to do their own research about which plants will do the best in their region and at the specific time of year. Depending on your child’s age, try not to intervene too much—put your child in charge of planting, watering, marking, and watching their seed sprout and grow. Kids take great pride in knowing that they’ve succeeded in growing something and checking on their plants every day will give them a reason to get outside.
Plan a Camping Trip. Among all its benefits, camping encourages children to have an appreciation for the beauty of nature. Some campsites offer views that are breathtaking and inspiring. Without television, electronic devices and even electricity, we can learn to take in all the sights and sounds of nature. We appreciate its serenity and wonder. In turn, we care more about protecting it!
Start a Collection. A leaf, flower, or rock collection is a great way to encourage kids to forage in the yard. Press leaves and flowers between the pages of a book before pinning them in an album. Rocks can be painted or polished and featured in a shadow box or glass jar.
Take a Hike. On a trail, away from cars and other dangers, our children are free to roam. You may hear your child exclaim, “I did it!” joyfully and more than once as they trek up a hill or devise a strategy to cross a stream or a log in his or her own way. Children build self-confidence because they are free to make their own choices, test limits, and accomplish what they out to do.
Go on a Scavenger Hunt. Keep in mind, you don’t necessarily want your child destroying nature. Your child can pick up and collect items such as fallen leaves, fallen flower petals, sticks or pebbles. Growing plants and living creatures, however, need to stay put outdoors. Try using a piece of tape around the wrist or a baggie to collect the “treasures.” For example, wrap a piece of masking tape (sticky-side out) around your child’s hand, bracelet-style. When he finds thin slices of tree bark on the ground or a match to the pictures of fallen leaves you took, he can press the items against the tape to take home.
There are some amazing places nearby to get outdoors and explore! The Brooklyn Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, Longwood Gardens, Ramapo Reservation, etc. Here are some more ideas:
For further reading check out Richard Louv’s book, The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder (you can also borrow it from our Lending Library!)