Now that my older daughter is ten, it’s harder and harder to get her to play outside. If I can lure her into the backyard with an idea, then she’ll usually stay there, which is why I’m loving the book I’m blogging about this month – 15 Minutes Outside by Rebecca P. Cohen. This book offers 365 ways to get out of the house and connect with your kids. Suggestions are grouped by the month so there are ideas for all seasons. Activities require little to no planning, expertise, or resources.
15 Minutes Outside began a New Year’s resolution. Cohen remarks in the book’s introduction that due to their demanding jobs her children’s experiences outdoors were reserved for precious weekends and rare vacations. She writes, “Our time outside was limited to getting in and out of the car.” Can you relate? Sadly, I can. Since Cohen found that being outside reduced not only her stress but also her kids, she resolved to get everyone outside for at least 15 minutes every day.
Why is 15 minutes outside good for you? According to Cohen, “The average child spends more than thirty hours in front of television and electronics a week and gets only four to seven minutes a day of unstructured playtime outside.” Mindboggling, right? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least sixty minutes daily because research shows, explains Cohen, that “spending more time outside improves children’s concentration in school, lessens aggression, and improves their ability to cooperate.” So Cohen, who lives in Virginia, offers ways to help you get started.
One of the first things Cohen recommends is making sure that you have the appropriate gear for outdoor play – whether it’s rain boots, long underwear, or sandals. By organizing accessories, such as gloves and hats, it’ll make it easier for everyone to quickly head outside. Bins with sunscreen and binoculars are also helpful for getting expeditions underway. I know I’m guilty of wanting my kids to play outdoors but not making it convenient for them to do – mittens too high for them to reach, snow boots a couple of sizes too small, and shovels hiding under sports equipment in their wagon. Therefore, our project for spring break will be tip #3 for April – do some spring cleaning.
Two things struck me in Cohen’s book. First, she writes how it still usually falls on her to make suggestions to motivate her sons. I have always found this to be the case and I thought by now they would have figured out how to play outside without assistance. Yet I think it’s perfectly acceptable if their interest in books wanes when we haven’t made a trip to the library in a while. Cohen helped me see time outdoors isn’t any different.
Second, I must admit, most of the time when I send my kids outdoors it’s so I can get my chores done inside. Cohen actually plays with them outside. While I suspect I will, admittedly, resist this idea, I know the time outdoors serves me well. Besides, how can I expect my children to value something that I don’t make a priority myself? Just as I’m always modeling my love of books by being lost in them, Cohen helped me realize I need to do the same when it came to nature.
Here are some of my favorite ideas for April:
- Create a nature mandala or circular pattern made from natural objects, like leaves, pebbles or flowers.
- Rate your puddle jump. (If you’ve bought them rain boots, they might as well use them.)
- Build a bean tepee, growing “pole” beans that vine along six-foot stakes tied together with twine. As long as you pick a spot that gets six hours of sun a day, your kids will have the perfect hiding place by summer’s end.
- Notice the understory, documenting buds with drawings or photographs.
- Discover a natural obstacle course. Race each other.
- Compare rocks. Visit www.Rockhounds.com/rockshop/rockkey for help with classifying rocks in your area.
- Write your ABCs with sticks.
- Fly a kite.
- Compare your shadows.
- Watch the sunset as a family.
Read my other blog Befriending Forty.