Parenting Column: Let’s get outside!

By Cindy Hartwig  
Parenting Columnist, Canyon Lake Insider  

Children are notorious for their natural curiosity and intrinsic need for outdoor exploration. Building snow forts, skipping stones, and gathering seashells are just a few favorite activities among the youth of all ages.

Adults may recall that some of our favorite childhood memories involve being outside. If we close our eyes, we can almost smell the scent of orange blossoms in a field, the feeling of sand on our toes at the beach, or the sensation of the wind blowing through our hair as we propelled our swings into the expansive universe!

Outdoor time was so valued that many of us would stay outside until dinner time. It is unfortunate that due to safety constraints, technology, academic demands, and busy calendars, this generation of children is not afforded those same opportunities.

More and more schools across the globe have responded with outdoor classroom options and an emphasis on a nature-based curriculum. Guess what? Parents can do this as well as a regular activity.

In fact, many children who are not typical classroom learners may thrive in some outdoor environments. In the past, playground time was geared primarily for large motor activity, but every other domain of learning may take place outside as well, including the following:

  • Mathematics: Children can count their steps or gather stones to practice addition and subtraction to reinforce one-to-one correspondence.
  • Physical Science: Building may take place with natural elements such as sticks and mud. Ramps may be built for transporting supplies or constructing traveling waterways. Kites or even grocery bags may demonstrate gravity in the wind.
  • Natural Science: Interaction with nature takes place as children work in a garden or observe nesting birds or butterfly metamorphosis.
  • Language and Literacy: Storytime becomes engaging and magical on a blanket under a tree and the alphabet can be drawn on the sidewalk for letter recognition.
  • Social/emotional development: Outdoor environments allow children to do what they do best; play and explore. Consequently, many times children are better behaved outside than in the confines of home or an indoor classroom. Outdoor play dates tend to be more successful because the items belong to nature rather than eliciting territorial responses of material possessions (toys).
  • Visual and Performing Arts: Nature provides the perfect backdrop for spontaneous plays or musical performances.
  • Fine motor skills: Families can prepare for outdoor adventure by involving the kids in assembling a basket for a picnic. Even young children can help by cutting soft fruits or cheese with a small plastic butter knife. Remember, these fine motor activities help develop small hands for handwriting and more intricate skills as they mature.

One of the biggest benefits of outdoor exploration is the fact that it is budget-friendly. Getting outside is free and reaps a big return in all areas of development. The next time your child is bored, consider cutting off their technological screen time in exchange for outdoor play. Guess what? As a bonus, they are also likely to sleep better and stay healthier from the fresh air and vitamin D. They may protest at first, but over time they, too, will come to cherish those childhood memories.

Cindy Hartwig is a parenting coach and consultant specializing in start-ups, growth, and expansion for churches and schools. She works with children, parents, educators, administrators, board members, accreditation teams, and pastors to strategize and implement best practices in education. Hartwig resides in Canyon Lake and is co-founder of 1 Focus Counseling.


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