A World of Their Own: Safe and Fun Outdoor Exploration for Kids
by Anya Willis (guest contributor)
Modern-day children may spend hours playing video games and staring at screens every day, but in one sense, things haven’t changed: Kids still love playing in the dirt and climbing trees. Technology has fostered a lifestyle change that encourages children to stay and play indoors. Consequently, there’s a risk that an entire generation is losing a connection to nature. Playing outdoors makes children stronger, more confident, and more knowledgeable about how to avoid dangers outside.
Some researchers have found that playing outside improves cognitive abilities, benefits motor skills, and builds cardiovascular health. Discovery, learning to overcome obstacles, and playing cooperatively with friends are all components of a healthy, nurturing childhood, but these and other factors fall by the wayside when children limit themselves to playing indoors. Having fun outside and learning about nature must take place in a safe environment. The responsibility of adults who have it in their hands is to transform their children’s world into a place of wonder and discovery.
A soft landing
If there’s one thing you can depend on when kids are playing, it’s that someone will have an accident. That often means falling, especially outdoors. For a child, exploration means experiencing new places, getting out into the yard and peering under and behind things, whether it’s under a bush or behind a tree. Make sure your children are exploring on a grass surface which will cushion your children when they fall much better than a gravel or cement play area. So exploring in the backyard can be safer than many of the traditional games that kids play when they’re out back.
Police the grounds
It goes without saying that you’ll be on the scene watching carefully as your kids poke around outside. Even so, children are genius at finding trouble even if you’re playing close attention, so take a close look around your yard for anything that poses a danger. If you have little ones, try seeing the space from their perspective by getting down on your knees. You might see sharp branches, thorn-bearing weeds or plants, or poison ivy, dangers you might miss by walking around and surveying it all from higher up. Look for any sharp objects that may have been overlooked, like gardening tools or pointy objects.
Clear the way
If your property has lots of vegetation, try to prune away low-hanging branches or limbs that could hit a small child in the eye. Clear away any large sticks or rocks your children could trip over as they run around. Bear in mind that little ones don’t always watch where they’re going, and are easily distracted by things that attract their interest. That’s a recipe for a twisted ankle or stubbed toe.
Children learn a great deal from engaging in family-friendly activities with their parents and siblings. These are memorable times that young children tend to retain and internalize. Pitching a tent and camping out helps kids appreciate and understand their outdoor environment. There’s nothing quite like looking up at a sky filled with stars and wondering about the nature of the universe, and our place in it. It’s a fun and educational experience that doesn’t require hours of travel that will always stay with your child.
Take a bike journey around your neighborhood or in a nearby park, where kids can experience wildlife visually and aurally. Have a contest in which you and your children try to identify as many birds and animals as you can. You can have much the same experience by making a bird feeder and writing down all the species of birds that drop by.
Childhood exploration is fundamental to a child’s development. There’s a fascinating world just beyond your back door, a world your kids can see, touch, and smell. Remember that providing for safe exploration and learning helps lay the groundwork for your children’s growth.