I’ve been reading and writing a lot lately about kids and play – about how essential it is, about its importance in learning essential skills. These skills aren’t just the obvious ones, they aren’t just in socialization and learning to share. Play teaches children the basics of creativity, helps them to explore their environment, helps them to learn an intuitive sense of physics and math, it even helps them to learn to read. These are things that were known when I was a child, and yet, free play time is being reduced for a significant number of kids. The growing media and popular voice would have us believe that it’s across the board and permeates all neighbourhoods, and I’m finding myself agreeing.
Kids need to play. Play with other kids without parental intervention, play with objects, play with concepts, and play with parents. Kids need time outside. Any parent knows that an hour of swinging, running, jumping, and climbing in fresh air, then a snack and story, is one of the best ways to get a child to have a good nap.
I decided earlier this week to challenge myself. My goal was to get Cameron outside and playing every single day, outside of daycare. I know that perhaps even more than your average kid, Cameron enjoys being outside. As an infant taking him outdoors would calm him down when he was screaming. As I mentioned, serious fun and activity outside was and still is my best bet for getting him to nap. Try to get him to come indoors when he wants to play outside? You’re in for tears and whining at best. Today he announced that he had to go poo while we were in the back yard, but when we got to the door to go in he asked, “Are we gonna come back out again?” The answer was no, it was time to make supper. He turned around and headed for the yard again.
Why was this a challenge, when it’s such a basic thing? When I know how important it is? The simple truth is that I don’t like being outside in the rain. And this week it rained and rained and rained. I’m a weather wimp, a fairweather player and camper. There is nothing I dislike so much as being damp.
So it was something I challenged myself to do.
You know what? It was fun! Okay, I got wet a couple of evenings. I need a raincoat. We went to a playground, we bounced around on the trampoline, we played with random stuff in the back yard, and he played with his friend Samuel. We’ve had fewer meltdowns and he’s been far more willing to do some tasks on his own. Tonight for the first time ever he tidied up a mess he made all by himself. A developmental leap due solely to outdoors play? I doubt it. But indirectly I’m sure it played a part. Cameron was more willing to try because he was in a better mood in general. The only surprise to me was that two nights in a row, after hours in total of play outside each day, he could not fall asleep. This too shall pass I’m sure.
The basic idea here was to challenge myself to do something I knew would have immediate if subtle effect, be healthy, and be fun. Then there will be another week. And another. And before you know it, it’ll be habit to play outside after work. Others will join us – I know other parents on the block who have similar attitudes.
And I challenge those of you out there, parents or not, to get outside and play. Start with one week.