Sunday, October 22, 2017

Outdoor Play

Want smart, healthy kids?  Send them out to play everyday.  Or take them.  Just make sure they get out of the house for part of the day. Outdoor play is absolutely essential for healthy physical and mental development. 

Right now, here in New York, it is October.  The weather is gorgeous, with clear, sunny days and stunning fall foliage.  Most of us try to get outside as much as possible.  But winter is coming, and spending time outdoors becomes more difficult.  The days become shorter and colder, with less time, and for many of us less incentive, to leave the warmth of our homes.  But even in winter, children need to spend time outside. There is simply no substitute for it. Hopefully, your children's teachers embrace this reality and make outdoor play a priority.  Unless it is snowing or raining, even a brief walk in very cold weather will benefit our children.

My first child was born in a freezing February.  She was three weeks early and severely jaundiced.  She spent the second week of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit, where she received two complete blood transfusions.  When she was released, the nurses admonished me to get her outside every day.  They said that many babies returned to the hospital because they were kept in stuffy, heated rooms and not given enough fresh air to breathe.  They told me to bundle her up and take her out for at least 15 minutes a day.  I took their words to heart.

The cold air does open our respiratory systems and counter the effects of dry, heated rooms.  We get doses of vitamin D from sunshine that are difficult to get elsewhere.  Outside, we exercise our eye muscles with increased peripheral vision, distance sighting, and depth perception.  We are also able to exercise our large muscles outside on a variety of terrains and levels.  Outdoors we can run, jump, climb, roll, dig, throw, balance.  Children challenge their bodies to run faster, climb higher, building strength, agility, and confidence. Outdoor play get our hearts pumping to benefit circulation and build a healthy appetite.  And outdoors, children can yell and holler, releasing tension and expressing pure joy in a way that is not always appropriate indoors.  

The natural world is a science laboratory.  Children learn about cause and effect while they watch the wind blow through the trees, or see how puddles develop after rain.  In winter, those puddles turn to ice; in summer, they evaporate.  We see shadows, caused by the sun, which change as the day goes on.  We notice so many varieties within each natural element:  clouds can be fluffy, thick, grey, or dark; trees can drop pine cones, acorns, chestnuts, or maple pods; bugs can fly, crawl, slither, or dig; rocks can be huge, tiny, rough, smooth, etc., etc.  Every experience with the natural world builds concepts and knowledge.

Being outside often has a calming effect on children.  The natural world abounds in treats for all of our senses.  Outdoors we are surrounded by fresh textures, colors, sounds, and smells to enjoy and spark our curiosity.  What child can resist jumping in a rain puddle or a pile of leaves?  Who hasn't stuck out her tongue to catch a raindrop or snowflake?  Who's been lucky enough to eat a berry right off a bush?  Yum.  Sensory experiences are very soothing. 

I believe that children who spend lots of time outdoors grow to be better people.    They develop a connection to the physical world that enables them to appreciate and respect our planet.  To love the world is to love life and all its creations.  In this way, outdoor play can also serve a child's spiritual development.

Open your child's potential for good health, intelligence, and a kind spirit.  Get him out of the house!!  

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