Now that spring is here, we’re spending a lot of time outdoors. We average 3-4 hours of outside time each day, barring rain or high wind. Especially with weather this beautiful, it’s so much more pleasant to be outside! Inside, there are toys, laundry and dishes all over the place and the kids’ squabbling just grates on my psyche. The girls seem to argue less when they have sand in their hair and dirt under their fingernails. Or maybe I just ignore the noise better when the breeze drowns it out. Either way, I know that we’re all happier outside.
The most frequent questions I hear about all of this outside time is: “What do the kids do?” closely followed by “What do YOU do?”. Apparently, in our project-oriented world, it’s expected that moms constantly organize some kind of a learning activity or game for our sweet babes. This is just not my style. While I will occasionally bring a messy art project outside (mostly to cut down on clean up), it’s rare that I guide my children’s outdoor play.
Here are my top four tips for making outside time easier, longer lasting, and more enjoyable for everyone.
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Tip #1: Make sure everyone is dressed comfortably.
It’s warm outside where we are right now, so we wear light clothing. Beyond that, though, my kids wear close-toed, grippy-bottomed Keen sandals, rain boots and bare feet. They wear stretchy play clothes and are allowed (encouraged) to get them dirty.
In the fall and winter it’s all about making sure everyone is comfortably warm. If it’s cold outside, invest in the warmest boots you can afford. Put them in water-resistant, fleece lined pants. Encourage hats and gloves.
Tip #2: Set up shaded outdoor play areas that encourage safe, independent play.
Here are some pictures of our outdoor play area. The shade is key- it makes summer afternoons outdoors much more enjoyable.
Tip #3: Have something productive for you to do nearby.
I spend a lot of my outdoor time keeping up with our “upper garden”, which is our smaller vegetable garden inside of our fenced yard. We also have several mixed herb/vegetable/flowerbeds near the play area.
While I weed, the kids all gravitate around me. They fetch things that I need, bring the baby a new toy, feed worms to our yard chicken Charlie and her chick Frankie, and tell me tall tales. Giggle likes to pick flowers and water plants with her watering can. Wiggle likes to climb on my back while I squat to rip crab grass roots from the dirt (it’s the best possible workout routine!). Stomp chews on parsley and wild onions and practices his standing and escaping skills.
When I grow tired of the endless weeding, I spend my time cleaning up the yard and keeping an eye on the baby. The girls are free to play at whatever they wish or to help me.
Tip #4: Facilitate your kid’s independence and chore contribution.
No, I don’t give them their very own tiny play garden next to my own. Nor do I give them a strict list of expected tasks (my older children are 4 and 3 and have flexible inside chores). Rather, we give them simple jobs that are within their skill range.
For instance, both of my girls can turn the rain barrel spigot off and on. From there, they can fill their own watering cans and water various herbs and plants around the yard. They are not thorough weeders at this age, but they can still learn to identify weeds and attempt to pull them. They can pick up tools, play with the baby while I carry something across the yard, and help plant seeds and seedlings. They can collect eggs, clean sticks and leaves out of the sandbox, and fill the birdfeeders.
I find that if the task be important, useful, and feasible, they are usually willing helpers.
If you are not currently taking your kids outside because it seems “too hard”, be encouraged and keep trying. Use the tips above to rethink your current time usage, and make changes as necessary!
Ultimately, just simply being outside can be refreshing and rejuvenating. Encouraging outdoor time doesn’t always have to involve an activity, a learning outcome, or a planned event.