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Raising Lexington: Rediscovering the Great Outdoors

With parenting professionals warning of a generation's mass migration indoors, why not take advantage of this weather and get your kids outside as part of your family's daily routine.

A few weeks ago and friend and I drove over to the Fenn School in Concord to see Dr. Anthony Rao, author of 'The Way of Boys,' speak about raising happy and healthy boys.

Between the two of us, we have four boys and thought it might be time well spent to listen to a professional on the topic. I have done my fair share of reading on the subject of boys (and girls too, for that matter) but heard something that stayed with me when Rao spoke about this generation’s mass migration indoors.

As I sat in the theater and listened to all of the ways being outside benefits human beings I became sad at the notion that our kids aren’t spending nearly enough time outside playing. I am not talking about team sports either. I am talking about unstructured outdoor play. I started remembering my childhood and all of the backyards I knew so well exploring with my friends. There were no fences, no privacy trees and no evil eyes as we took over neighbor’s yards to practice our roundoff back-handsprings or some version thereof. I know, I know times were different the, but I am not that old and times could not have changed that much.

Well, according to Rao, they have. And these changing times are hurting our children.

So what do we do about it? After all, it’s cold here in New England the majority of the year.

After my mini daydream down memory lane in the middle of the lecture, I started to realize it wasn’t rocket science these parenting professionals were suggesting, but rather simple free play outside in your own backyard. I could do that and I was so what’s the problem? The problem is that fewer and fewer parents are supporting the theory that outdoor unstructured play for kids is vital to their health and academics. We have all seen the research suggesting that recess has been cut way too much and that unstructured play is important to childhood development, so I won’t go there now; but in our overly structured lives many of us think this kind of play is a waste of time.

I may have agree with those naysayers if it wasn’t for a snowy afternoon about two years ago.

My daughter was having some “indoor fatigue,” as Rao calls it, and I sent her outside to our backyard in about two feet of snow. Our toy bin was frozen shut and the play structure was covered with snow and ice. I watched my daughter, then 4-years-old, look around to analyze the situation. She started walking back to the house and I thought my free time was over. She peaked her head inside and said, “Mom, do you have some Tupperware I can play with?” My smile grew wide as I handed her three different size Tupperware bowls and watched her turn back to the yard. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that she played with those three bowls for over an hour in sheer delight. I stood at the window slightly dumbfounded that someone could have so much fun with three bowls and some snow.

Yes, I have told this story many times but it is because it proves my point. Kids don’t need organized games all of the time and maybe there is something to all of the fuss about free play. My daughter must have concocted dozens of scenarios and experiments with those bowls that day and all without guidance or structure from anyone.

Do a little experiment this week with your kids and pick a time that may be a little challenging in your house (for us it is right when the kids get home from school) and send them outside in the backyard. Turn off the TV, put away the computers, smart phones and Wii’s and just hand them their hats and gloves. The look of shock will eventually wear off and maybe this outdoor time will become second nature to them.

Once that happens, all of the benefits of being outside will make themselves apparent in their health, school work, focus and overall happiness. I know it does for my kids.

Carrie Wells Raho February 01, 2012 at 02:33 AM
Great article and a very important issue. I would also like to recommend "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv which thoroughly explores this topic- a must read for all parents!
Valerie Sands February 01, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Audra - I can't tell you how many times I comment to my children that I used to be out and about in my neighborhood for hours and hours when I was growing up. We had to come home when my mom hollered for us! Since we live in Florida, the weather is not a problem for outdoor play. The problem is the Wii, iPad and other electronic lures for the indoors. I have to say, "No electronics!! Outside now!". When the kids aske what will they do I just tell them they'll figure it out. And you know what, they usually do.
Joe Deveau February 01, 2012 at 06:31 PM
LOL! Great read Audra, and so true. I am 60 and we were not allowed inside. "Go out and play". It is so healthy for kids to interact amongst themselves with no adult interference. They learn compromise, share and deal with conflicts. They do figure these thing out. Oh! one other thing Audra. If your kids want to make some extra money---next time it snows send them over.
Audra Myerberg February 03, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Thank you Carrie, I love gearing about other "must reads".
Audra Myerberg February 03, 2012 at 01:29 AM
So true Valerie! I really limit screen time and us it as a reward. I know there are some good education games and apps out there but nothing beats the fresh air! I remember being outside until Mom called us too! Great memories.
Audra Myerberg February 03, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Thanks Joe! You are right on the money about learning compromise, dealing with conflict, etc. It makes me so happy to see kids outside just exploring and having fun.

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