Today’s kids are busier than ever, and their calendars are packed with school and extracurricular activities. Even play can be scheduled down to the minute and overly structured to the point where kids aren’t so much playing as they are following a routine. This is not helped by the fact that many children today spend so much time in child care centers while their parents work. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that preschoolers averaged just 48 minutes per day of active playtime while they were in day care. The same study also concluded that children were far more likely to be active while they were outdoors, making getting kids out into nature a high priority.
Being active and playing outdoors has numerous short-term and long-term benefits for children, especially children under 10 years old. According to the National Wildlife Federation, not only does active play outdoors help kids in terms of physical fitness, but it also helps stimulate their minds and spirits by reducing stress levels and developing abstract problem-solving skills. Among the primary benefits of active play outdoors according to the federation include:
Getting Out There
Given how important getting outside and playing is for young kids, parents should take the responsibility to encourage their families to spend more time outdoors and explore nature in ways that stimulate kids’ curiosity and enthusiasm. Fortunately, there are many ways families can get together and play in the great outdoors that can go a long way toward getting kids to enjoy healthier and more productive lifestyles now and later in life.
Here are some suggestions for activities you and your family can do outside to help your children discover the benefits of playing outdoors and create more opportunities for them to spend time outside:
Everyone assumes they know how their lives will change when they have a baby. You expect to not sleep much, to sacrifice some things like date night or a long shower. You figure that your schedule will revolve around Baby's for a little while. But after the dust settles from bringing home a newborn, you figure things will soon return to "business as usual" around your home.
You are so wrong.
It can actually be quite the opposite: newborns are easy to take out in public. You can wear them or easily leave them in their infant car seat, snapping them into a stroller. They're small and sleep a lot, and have very basic needs that are easily met while on the go.
It's when kids get older, start to drop naps and be more active, that it becomes much more difficult to leave the home as a family. Let me give you a few examples.
Many young children are picky eaters, which means you're limited on what to order if you go out. I've packed many a Tupperware away in my bag just in case Kiddo didn't want anything off the menu. But that's a pain to do; I found myself trying to avoid taking him out for meals. It was just easier to stay at home (bonus: I didn't have to change out of my yoga pants).
If you really want your child to be a destroyer of worlds, take them out and about when they are supposed to be asleep. Whether it is naptime or bedtime, your child will suffer for days if you disrupt their rest. I know The Daddy’s Life gets this – his advice for kids and their sleep is what first endeared me to his blog.
He gets it. But a lot of people don't.
Other people -- whether family, friends, coworkers, or whatever -- usually do mean well. They miss you (you've been out of touch since the baby arrived) and want to catch up. But they forget that you have not gotten rid of that kid you had a year or two ago, or they do not think that having a small child makes that big of a difference. And unfortunately, it puts you as the responsible parent in an uncomfortable position.
When you are asked to make plans to go out, as a parent your mind usually instantly thinks "what is my kid doing around that time?" The right thing to do is to politely turn down anything that would affect your child's routine, particularly their sleep. But sometimes we feel pressured to try and accommodate our friends or family; we think that we can adjust our kid's schedule, put them to bed later or wake them up from a nap earlier. It's just once, and it could be fun. We want to do it all. Kids are versatile, right?
This is a bad idea. And totally unfair to your child.
I do not feel guilty saying that, because I admit that I was pressured by loved ones multiple times. I know that their suggestions were harmless – either their child rearing days were long over, or had not begun. Still, I hesitated before responding to them… I actually thought about putting my social life before my child. I actually did once, and made plans to meet a large group of my family for dinner. After begging my inconsolable, screaming one year old unsuccessfully to calm down and sleep in the car, I turned around and drove home. Kiddo was overtired and a beast to put to bed, and I was emotional and overcome with guilt and selfish regret. Never again. Not worth it.
I will say this: if you feel you need to have a night out, or go do something which would screw up your kid's day, please just get a babysitter. We personally have never left our child with anyone unless we absolutely had to, but I know that is a fairly rare mentality. I am definitely not suggesting that you be home by 8 PM for the next six years. Just remember, it is a dangerous hobby to change anything about your child's routine.
I don't get angry at people who ask to make plans -- I try to turn it into an educational experience. (Ever the teacher, I know). I let them know when Kiddo's bedtime is, and I give my suggestion of what we could do and when. Then I kick it back to them, to accept or reject. Either way is fine with me. They just have to understand and accept that my timeline is not negotiable. I know best when it comes to my kids, and they are my priority.
I always offer to host dinners at my house too, so we can see people up until Kiddo's bedtime. But if we are out somewhere, I'll set an alarm on my phone when it's time to leave. Sort of like Cinderella... Except it's 6:30pm instead of midnight, and my kiddo turns into something way more horrific than a pumpkin.
I promise that this isn't meant to be a deterrent from having children! I'm so in love with my kids, and being their mama. And I honestly don't miss going out to see movies, or spending money at restaurants. I know all too well that my babies will grow too fast, and I'll have time to go do all that stuff later.
I think it just strikes our society by surprise when it's apparent that things don't really ever go back to the way they used to be. Establishing a new normal is necessary for a new family. At the center of it all, is your child and their needs. As a responsible parent, your kid and their schedule are priority one. And you don’t really get the luxury of being selfish anymore.
It feels good to know that our small corner of the world is changed due to our young little family. I appreciate that my friends and family now give us space, and do not try to pressure us when we say that we need to be home for our babies. They now know that we will always make the right decision for our children. Plus, don't tell me that Netflix and some pizza delivery doesn't sound fantastic. Bonus: you get to keep those yoga pants on.