I remember the long summer days of my youth. Getting up when the sun came out and eating my bowl of cereal while watching cartoons. Once 8 am hit, my sisters and I would hop on our bikes and set out for the day. By lunchtime, our gang of kids would number around 15 or so. We all would briefly stop by our homes to grab a bite to eat and then head out again until dusk. By the end of the day we were tired and blissfully dirty.
I’m a firm believer in outdoor play. My parents would kick my siblings and I outside to play all day unless the weather was bad. Most days I didn’t care at all; I wanted to be outside. Now that I am a mom, I’ve noticed how little my friend’s kids played outside. Sure, we have park play dates, but no one really lets their kids just go in the backyard and play.
Sure, with both parents often working and kids having to spend time in daycare, there is little time during the week to let them just play. Even in schools outdoor playtime is limited. In the US, the average recess time per day for elementary kids is 20 minutes. That’s only an hour and 40 minutes of outdoor play a week! Public education is so focused on increasing instruction time to improve test scores that play time is sacrificed. This doesn’t improve grades; it leads to burnout. When the kids get home from school, they then have to do homework plus whatever extracurricular activities the are in. This leaves little time to unwind outside. The end result: they play more video games or watch TV.
According to the National Academy of Pediatrics, children are averaging seven hours of screen time daily. With all this inactivity, no wonder there’s a rise in attention problems, school difficulties, and obesity. Kids aren’t meant to stay idle. They are made to move and learn through play. According to research, children who play outdoors regularly:
- Become fitter and leaner
- Develop stronger immune systems
- Have more active imaginations
- Have lower stress levels
- Play more creatively
- Have greater respect for themselves and others
I know I have it easier than most parents when it comes to implementing play time for my kids. I homeschool and work from home. Our standard school day begins with an hour long outdoor play session, another 30 minutes of play before and after lunch and additional play time after lessons are over. Whenever my kids get frustrated or antsy during a lesson, l stop and send them outside to play. I’ve learned that trying to make a child learn when they have too much pent up energy is a waste of time. They need to burn it off.
My family is far from perfect. I have one child that will play out all day if he could and another that would rather sit indoors and play video games. I do not eliminate screen time, but I do control it. I make it a point to make sure they get playtime daily, indoor and out. I also don’t have any rules about getting dirty. My kids walk barefoot, climb in mulch piles, make mud pies and have impromptu water fights—all during our homeschool day.
Even if you can’t get the kids outdoors, let them play indoors without electronics. It’s amazing how much creativity they have waiting to come out. Set a pile of Lego bricks in front of them and let them create. Good ol’ games like hide and seek and Twister are still a hit. It’s possible, even with the busiest schedules, to get your kids playing. Start with just 15 minutes a day and increase the time weekly. You’ll be surprise how much play time you really can squeeze in.
Go ahead, let the kids play and get a little dirty. The entire family will benefit from a bit of daily free form play.