March is here, and that means spring is well on its way. This is wonderful news, because it makes outside time much more feasible, something parents everywhere appreciate. After all, we all know that time spent in nature is crucial to a child’s development, and warm weather opens up a number of options for productive outdoor play.
Of course, the very best kind of play is unstructured and unregimented. Therefore, while there is something to be said for occasional structured activities such as sports, we highly recommend ensuring your kids get plenty of fresh air and sunshine without any specific instructions. These times are when you’re most likely to see their creativity blossom and grow.
That said, there are things you can do to encourage highly creative, skill building, outdoor play without imposing too many rules and creating a super structured environment. Here are our top 4 tips for doing this.
Invite Other Children
Some of the very best pretend play happens in groups. Sibling groups are great for this, but children without siblings who are close in age may need a bit of help gathering a group. Keep an eye out for neighbor kids who might want to come play regularly, head to a park where other children are gathered, or join a homeschool group (like The Loop) to make new friends and give your child an opportunity to play outdoors with others.
While the children are playing, do your best to allow them to work out their own problems, offering to help only if someone might be hurt. Giving the kids space will allow them to play freely and develop teamwork, problem solving, and creativity skills.
Choose Clothing Wisely
Kids who feel restricted by their clothing will probably not get as much out of their play time. After all, how can a young person properly create mud pies when they’ve been instructed to remain clean? Likewise, how is it possible to climb a tree in tight fitting pants that don’t allow freedom of movement.
Think about these things when dressing your children for play. Have designated play clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty, dress your kids in these and then try to relax and let go. A bit of mud or sand and a bunch of leaves never hurt anyone, but they can certainly help a child develop properly.
Lean Toward “Yes”
If you’re like the majority of parents out there, your default answer is likely set to “no”. The problem with this is that there is not always a truly good reason to say “no”. After all, what’s a skinned knee or a ripped dress when compared to the amazing life lessons your children will be learning?
Instead of offering only negative responses to your child’s requests and ideas, make an effort to start saying “yes”. This will empower your child and give them a chance to explore their talents, interests, and limits.
Read, Discuss, and Experience
Our final tip is perhaps the most important of all: Read, discuss, and experience with your kids. You see, children often use free play time to act out and sort through new ideas and concepts. Therefore, by making a point of exploring and experiencing new things with your kids, you are offering them new material to try to understand during their unstructured playtime.
Finding new, fresh topics and ideas to share with your little ones doesn’t just give them new game ideas for playtime however. It also teaches them how to find information for themselves and encourages them to continue exploring their world into adulthood. Clearly, these are some of the best lessons you could possibly instill in a child.
These are our tips for preparing your kids for hours upon hours of free, unstructured outdoor playtime this spring and summer. Have something to add? Let us know about it on our Facebook page!