When I was a little girl, summer meant several things: no school, homemade ice cream, softball, and playing outside. My friends and I would head out in the morning, come back for lunch, and come in when we HAD to–usually when the street lights came on. We also rarely wore shoes, so the soles of our feet were blackened from the day’s adventures. I grew up in a very small town, and I know that offers certain advantages. If you’re in a bustling, urban area, it may not be practical or safe to stay out until the street lights come on, and you certainly need to wear shoes. That said, playing outside in an unstructured fashion is magical. Here’s why:
The Wonder of Nature
Nature is its own reward. It is unique and unrepeatable, and full of surprises. My tomato plants look different today than they did yesterday, and the fact that they have grown from a seed, and that we have watched that process, is a bit of a miracle. You can’t order up a butterfly or a ladybug to land on your shoulder, but when it does…magic! Grass under your feet, whether soft or bristly, is a sensory gift. Clouds offer their own art gallery.
The Blessing of Imagination
As a play therapist, I prefer a non-directive approach in my work. Part of my rationale, along with sage advice of my teachers and peers, is that kids, given the right space, will take themselves where they need to go in play therapy. The same is true in regular play. Whole worlds exist in our imaginations if given the right space to explore them. The “right space” may be outside, unplugged, and unfettered by rules or plans. Again hearkening back to my childhood, one of my favorite things to do with my friends was to “play pretend.” My friends and I played that we were newscasters and weathermen, teachers, singers, moms, and detectives. We didn’t need a script, or even an idea from our parents. All we needed was time and the right space.
Our Amazing Bodies
We are meant to move. Our bodies are designed for activity, for walking, running, swimming, chasing, throwing…you get the idea. Research is currently telling us that we actually shorten our lifespans by sitting as much as we do. Research also tells us that our mental health is improved when we move our bodies. There are endless ways to move our bodies. How fun is it to play in the sprinkler and have a Popsicle, outside where the red goodness drips down your chin? That can only happen outside. Riding a bike offers a sense of accomplishment and freedom. Playing a game of pick-up basketball or baseball offers the opportunity to be part of a team, take risks, and run!
As parents and caregivers, we want to provide our children with every opportunity for growth. Ironically, sometimes that means NOT scheduling, or providing a game, or even a therapeutic app (!). It means opening the back door, making some lemonade, and getting a good book for yourself.
So now that I’ve written this post, I really want to get outside!