Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Time to Play -- OUTSIDE!

As I prepare for a new speaking season, I have been reviewing current trends in parenting and reading bunches of books on those topics. I love to develop new talks and am really excited about my newest topic "Getting Your Kids Outside to Play!".

Playing outdoors has been a very important thing to Mark and I since the children were old enough to walk. I know it is a huge struggle for some folks who face fears and worries about their children being outdoors. I also am aware that many people believe that their children will really NOT know what to do. I spent about 20 minutes watching Elizabeth play in our backyard today and would like to share with you some of what she did during that time. She could not see me and was given no toys when she headed outside to play. Here is what I saw:

-Elizabeth runs as fast as possible out the door.
-Elizabeth begins running back and forth across the yard many, MANY times.
-She wanders to the garden and stares at the strawberry plants which have no blooms or berries yet.
-She runs as fast as she can to the play set.
-She runs half-way up the slide, comes down on her knees, and pops off the bottom.
-Elizabeth runs sideways 10 paces away from the play set and runs up the slide again.
-She runs up the slide and goes 10 paces off again and again.
-Elizabeth runs at the swings, hits them on her belly and swings that way for several minutes.
-Elizabeth tries to combine all three swings, pushing them all at once and watches them swing.
-She runs back to the garden and checks on the strawberry plants. Still no blooms.
-She runs back toward the house, I think she is coming in.
-Elizabeth notices a rubber band on the ground.
-She tries to shoot the rubber band as I wonder how she knows to do this.
-The first shot goes a few inches.
-The second shot goes a long way.
-Her face lights up!
-She spends several minutes trying to figure out what made the rubber band fly so far.
-In following the rubber band, she finds a piece of sidewalk chalk.
-She takes the chalk and colors the same spot of patio til the chalk is almost gone.
-Fingers chalky, she seems to look for water.
-Elizabeth finds a small table (patio furniture) over-turned by a recent storm.
-She wiggles the table legs and realizes there is water in the underside of the table.
-She lifts her pants and steps onto the overturned table, into 2 inches of water.
-She splashes a bit but the water does not enter her winter Crocs.
-She hops out of the water and takes off running across the yard.
-Back to the strawberries. You guessed it. No blooms.
-She is distracted by a robin that flies to the bird feeder.
-While watching the robin, a squirrel jumps onto the feeder.
-Elizabeth laughs out loud.
-She watches the birds and squirrels for a long while.
-Out of nowhere, Elizabeth takes off running to a nearby tree.
-She hangs upside-down on a low limb and lifts herself into the tree.
-Noticing something on the ground, she pops down and picks up a label that was blowing through the yard.
-The wind blows. She stops to watch the label blow and turns her face up toward the sun. The wind blows her hair away from her face.
-She runs into the side yard and I cannot see her. (The yard is fully fenced.)
-Several minutes go by, she comes running back.
-She notices her bike (training wheels) on the patio.
-She rides the bike back and forth across the patio for several minutes.
-Elizabeth heads back to the swings.

All in all she was outside about an hour. For a five year old child, that is a long time! She was happy and calm the whole time. She did not complain or come in needing one thing or another. She was not bored. And while I spent a lot of time watching her, I did have a few minutes to myself.

Spring is coming and the glorious days of summer will quickly follow. Our children need so much from us but some of what they need is LESS. Less entertaining. Less scheduling. Less intervening. Less electronics. Less toys. When we pull back and let our children play freely, they discover vivid imaginations, amazing nature, stress-free moments and the kind of activity that develops many sides of their little beings. They imagine a rock that looks like a bear. They turn a twig into a person. They feel the grass beneath their feet and the sun on their faces.
And it is good.

A little while ago, I tucked Elizabeth into bed for a nap. She was tired from her play and gladly lay down in her bed. She pulled her blanket up over her shoulders, pulled her baby in close and took a deep breath. I leaned in a kissed her forehead and smelled the outside on my girl. She fell asleep quickly and is up there now dreaming... of slides and running and squirrels and birds and bikes and yes, strawberries.

Good night, my sweet girl. Sleep well.

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