Parents are always on the lookout for new ideas on entertaining their children on the weekends.
Recently a parent (not a client) asked me for recommendations for places to take kids. I smiled and gave away my secret go-to spot. I could tell that my response took him by surprise. I am pretty sure they were probably expecting to get the name of a local kid-friendly event or another indoor jumping place that just opened up.
My suggestion was pretty simple, take them outside. More specifically, take them to a park with lots of greenery or on a nature walk. Let them explore, wonder, touch, get dirty and use their imagination.
Today our kid’s lives are way too busy, they have hours of homework, tons of extracurricular activities and way too much screen time. Parents frequently google and check Groupon for discounts on local activities for kids. Rarely does the idea of free outdoor play come to mind. However, if we think back to our favorite childhood memories, they often include playing outdoors. Kids need more opportunities to have these experiences and make memorable moments.
As a play therapist and a mom, I try my best to practice what I preach. I almost always take my kids for a “nature” walk after school. Do they complain? yes of course, but I don’t budge. I blame the dog and how he needs to be walked because he’s been home all day bored while they were at school. I choose the greenest and foresty looking place for our walk. We cut through the garden in our community where my kids run, jump, tumble on the grass, pick up sticks, notice birds, spider webs, squirrels, butterflies, and flowers. I try to allow for around 30 minutes, my job later turns into convincing them to head back home. Once we make it home, they are calmer, my son can focus better on his homework while my daughter sits still to do a puzzle.
BS? Not at all! Various studies have found that being out in nature has a variety of positive effects on the mind and body. Researchers observed changes in the brain and the body which suggest that we are physically and mentally more healthy when we interact with nature:
- significantly lower heart rate
- higher heart rate variability (indicating more relaxation and less stress),
- improved mood
- less anxiety
- improved memory
- improved scores on cognitive tests
This is important to know considering kids are required by schools today to complete tasks that are not developmentally appropriate. Kindergarten is not limited to learning the ABCs, cutting shapes and coloring inside the lines. Instead, kids are expected to sit still and focus for extended periods of time. They are being taught how to read and write at a younger age. Nowadays school systems focus on preparing kids for standardized tests. Our kids have less recess time, less time for art and music and way more homework than we ever had when we went to school. As a result, we are noticing increases in ADHD diagnoses, sensory processing disorders, incidents of bullying and mood disorders occurring in childhood.
Outdoor play is beneficial for the physical, cognitive and emotional development of children.
Outside is always the best place to take your kids this weekend.