Children learn through play, movement, communication, and sensory experience which the outdoors provides for on a much greater scale than indoors. A recent survey by Early Childhood Ireland and the Institute of Technology, Sligo has also shown that Irish parents value play but that 88% of children play outside less in winter and 74% of children don’t get to play outside when it is raining. In contrast our Scandinavian neighbours dress for the weather, get out more and have lower levels of obesity. Children who play outside are also less likely to get sick, to be stressed or become aggressive, and are more adaptable to life’s unpredictable turns (Louv, 2005) We have some ideas to encourage outdoor play below, from creating an inviting environment, to having suitable resources on hand to play with, whatever the weather.
Research tells us over and over again how valuable the outdoors is for us all. However how often do we really go outdoors, other than just getting to the car or catching a bus? Although the Autumn/Winter seasons can be a little harsh, children still love the outdoors at this time of year.
Children learn so much from being outdoors. They can climb and jump much more freely; they can get dirty and have fun! Outdoor play can really support a parent’s wellbeing too. Most adults would acknowledge that going for a walk increases their wellbeing and helps them deal with any challenges they may face.
This Winter, see if you can introduce some outdoor play to your children’s lives. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Go for a nature walk. Every part of Ireland allows you to access a field or park of some sort. Take yourself and your children for a walk to see what nature has to offer. Collect leaves and berries, nuts and cones. Make a project of it, if you wish, when you return home. Help them identify the different leaves and the nuts and cones that match each tree. Talk with them about what berries you can eat and which ones are just for the birds.
Bird Watch. There are many lakes and water ways around the country which are great for bird watching. You can join an organised group or just visit the library and get some idea of the birds in your area. Make it a treasure hunt to see how many you can spot in the one afternoon. Most children are fascinated by nature. Bird Watch Ireland has great resources and often organise free family-friendly events around the country, as do Bat Conservation Ireland and many other wildlife and environmental organisations.
Take a picnic and practice some mindfulness. Having hot chocolate while sitting in a field or near a lake or river is very healing. Children again can feel very relaxed and often talk more openly with you about any challenges they may have. Home offers a lot of distractions to you both.
Visit a local forest. Children love the leisure of walking through forests and not having to hold hands with an adult all the time. Children enjoy their freedom and it is crucial they have these opportunities as they grow. Allow them climb up hills and roll back down. Allow them dig and collect treasure. The things that fascinate them most are likely to have arose the same feelings in you once upon a time.
Make it social. Often when we plan days out and play dates they involve indoor activities which can cost a lot of money. Why not take a ball to the park? Go cycling? You can hire bikes in many forests and parks. Take a kite, the weather is here! Blow bubbles.
Become an artist. What could be more therapeutic and fun than taking the sketch pads and markers to a lovely spot outdoors. Ask your children to draw what they see. It doesn’t matter what age they are, they will attempt this. You can then talk about what you see and maybe have some new art work to pass onto family for Christmas or to hang in your home.
In the garden. How many gardens are left idle all winter? Once the grass stops growing we can feel our work is done till next spring. If you have access to a garden, encourage your children to spend time outside there every day. When children go outside and run about freely they can burn off vast amounts of energy. If you keep them indoors all day you may have more troublesome behaviours, as they find it hard to use up the stores of energy indoors. Often when they come back in, they settle into some quiet time and things can run a lot smoother.
Walk. Do you really need to take the car or bus so much? Look at where you can introduce some extra walking, even simply getting off the bus one stop earlier. Try it out for a few weeks. Children will become more energetic as they get used to it. You may have to allow some extra time to get to where you are going, but it will be worth it. Children will become healthier and fitter, and most likely will have fewer colds over the winter months. Just wrap up snug and warm.
Make it social. Organise to meet up with friends in the park. You can have a chance for a chat with other adults while your children enjoy being with some other children. And you won’t have to tidy up the house when go home. Surely this is enough of an incentive to meet and play outdoors! Visit a pet farm together and maybe see Santa outdoors this year, as opposed to crowded shopping centres. Even if your child is terrified of Santa, as some can be, they will enjoy the outdoors.
Finally, mostly my experience is that adults don’t like outdoor play and generally feel that the outdoors poses a risk. I would ask you to challenge this concept this coming winter. Winter can be the most fun time to be outdoors.
Don’t forget you can also take part in Kildare Sports Partnership Inclusive Family Circuit for 2020 –
Leaflet can be downloaded here : KSP Inclusive Family Fitness Leaflet PDF
And looks like this:
(c) Geraldine Kelly – One Family.ie
(c) Kildare Sports Partnership