I read a rather depressing article in The Guardian this week about the amount of time kids spend outside – apparently, about 3/4 of kids in the UK spend less than an hour outside on an average day, which is less than the amount of outdoors time the UN recommends for prisoners. I don’t imagine it’s that much better in the US, particularly in urban environments.
There’s been a combination of factors leading up to this, I think. We have the increased attraction of indoor activities, to start – a proliferation of games, toys, and technologies that didn’t exist a few generations ago. We have an increased sense of parental fear and anxiety, which I think stems from the globalization of our news and the breakdown of neighborhood communities. And in general we have a cultural tendency toward comfort and convenience, and being outdoors in all weathers isn’t the most comfortable or convenient thing, especially when parental supervision is required!
But it is undeniable that outdoors, active play and exploration is one of the best possible things a young child can be doing.
So, in sort of the same spirit as my efforts to make sure my kids eat a variety of healthy foods, I’ve decided to be very intentional about getting them out of the house every day for an hour or two at a time (Limerick doesn’t usually last longer than that without needing some sort of rest or snack). I wish I had more wild and natural places for them to play easily, but at least I can get them outdoors with their hands in the dirt and rocks and grass!
Our city does offer a variety of parks, and we live in a walkable area, so that helps a lot. Just this weekend, actually, we discovered a new park that has a small desert botanical garden, some walking trails, and some Native American ruins in addition to the playground area! I’m anticipating a lot more exploration there…
Rondel and I stood under this palo verde, by the flower-crowned organ pipe cacti, and held very still so we could listen to the buzzing drone of all the bees over our heads. The branches were probably a good two feet above my head and we could still hear the hum loud and clear.
In a similar vein, I learned today about the concept of an urban farm preschool, where very young children who don’t live in a rural environment can still have daily exposure to the natural environment – to experience firsthand the ever-changing beauty and wildness of nature, to see how plants grow and bear fruit and die, to taste and touch and feel living things every day, to grow comfortable around dirt and animals and the unsanitized processes of the natural world. There’s another idea added to my catalog of small businesses I’d be interested in starting some day!
What are some of your favorite ways to encourage your children to play outdoors, especially those of you who live in more urban settings? How do you think our society as a whole might do a better job of enabling outdoor time for both children and adults?