Parenting & Child Development: It’s important to play with your kids outside |

Parenting & Child Development: It’s important to play with your kids outside

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — “Go play outside!” Do you recall getting this type of order from an adult when you were a kid and off you went?

Sadly, in the space of one generation, American children have lost the freedom to just go outside and play. According to one study, the average American child spends just four to seven minutes a day outdoors.

There are all kinds of reasons for this change in lives of American children. At the heart of it is a lifestyle change with more screens, more protectiveness and more scheduled lives. American kids are under what some call “house arrest.”

A childhood removed from nature is costing our children dearly in physical and mental health. It also gives rise to more helicopter parenting with tightly scheduled and supervised activities leaving little time to explore and roam freely.

The absence of unstructured play time outdoors limits our children’s understanding of the natural world and the development of problem solving, creativity, critical thinking, reasoning and observation skills. Physical strength is better developed in children who spend time outdoors including getting vitamin D from the sun’s rays so vital to human health.

Outdoor play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of all children. Playing outdoors also offers an ideal opportunity for parents and caregivers to engage fully with their children. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children.

A variety of factors that have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or child-centered free play outdoors. Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.

Every child deserves the opportunity to develop to their full and unique potential. As advocates for our children, we must promote and create more opportunities for children to reap the benefits associated with playing outside.

As summer ends and the new school year to begins, schedules fill up, autumn leaves turn and the light and air outside change, remember to get outside with your kids, invite some of the neighborhood kids too and enjoy. Even if you have only 15 minutes to do so, you will be doubling the current national average.

At a loss as to where to start and how to play outside with your kids? Below are some ideas.

1: Take a nature walk and talk about what your are seeing, hearing, and smelling. Encourage touching the natural elements – discover the smoothness of a rock, the roughness of bark, and the fragility of a dried leaf. For young children, these are early natural science experiences.

2: Set up an obstacle course with odds and ends found outside. Moving through it will teach important concepts like over, under, through, and around.

3: Do a scavenger hunt that only includes things found in nature.

4: A “listening” walk makes for a wonderful sound discrimination activity. As you walk with the children, point out the sounds of birds, passing cars, whistling wind, even your footsteps on the sidewalk. What sounds can the children identify on their own? Which are loud and which are soft? Which are high and which are low? What are their favorite sounds?

5: Bring the parachute or an old sheet outside and play parachute games (shaking it, circling with it, making waves with it, or bouncing foam balls on it).

Holly Galbo lives in Incline Village and is the mother of two beautiful little girls. When she is not chasing after them, she is the manager at the KidZone Museum in Truckee. For information, call 587-KIDS (5437) or visit

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