Thursday, June 28, 2012

Leading the Way - Getting Outside with Kids

I carry the quilt out the back door, across the driveway and through the gate before spreading it out on the lawn.  Half in the sun, half in the shade.  I settle right in with my knitting and a book balanced on my knee.  The kids flock around.

Peter is taking a nice little toddle through the garden boxes, stopping every now and then to tug at a leaf or dig a bit in the dirt.  Ben sits nearby, squinting at an ant hill.

Jonah and the girls open up books right there on the blanket, reading a bit before running off to swing or dig around in the sandbox or, in Jonah's case, search for the ideal stick for a ninja sword.

None of them complain about being outside when I'm there with them.  I've learned along the way that children will follow their parent's lead above all else.  If Mama is inside, children will want to be there, too.  If Daddy spends all of his time on the computer, the draw for the children to do the same will be inescapable.  Children watch what we eat, what we say, how we live - and imitate.  It is how they were made, how humans were engineered to learn - knowledge of life and how to live it, passed down through the generations.

There is much more to getting children their desired outside time.  It simply isn't enough to just send them out.  Parents have to model the behaviors we want them to have.  Articles are published about a nature deficit disorder, and bucket lists for children under 12 that revolve around life lived outside.  Kids are missing out, but perhaps it's not their fault.  Perhaps they are still just as curious and interested as ever, but they aren't encouraged to get out there.  Perhaps they are waiting on their busy parents to show them how.  Now, more than ever before, spending time outdoors is counter-cultural.  Children need to be shown why and how it matters.

I want my kids to love being outdoors.  To soak up knowledge of the natural world.

I want my kids to run, shout, get dirty, swing, sing, scream and experience it from the top of their heads to the tips of their toes.  I want them to lay in the grass on a warm summer's day and drift off, completely at peace with their surroundings.  I want them to imagine, to question, to marvel and to embrace.  I want them to learn to appreciate this beautiful planet and the One who made it.

I've got my work cut out for me: I have to lead the way.  So I strive to spend hours outdoors and watch them mimic me.  I dig and water and plant, and then I just sit and relax, right there.  Watching bees and birds and babies in their natural habitat.


The backyard becomes our summertime living room and we read books about flowers, books about animals, books about God.  We paint toenails and splash in sprinklers.  Sun-soaked and soul-strengthened, we live and breathe and are outside.

After dinner, they come crashing out the backdoor for those last few precious hours of daylight - catching fireflies in the dusk.  I meet them at the door with soapsuds for filthy feet and the littlest ones lean against me, sweaty and sleepy, tan and tuckered.  I carry Jonah up to bed, flopped right over my shoulder, and feel his little heart beating against me. A day well lived.  A child stronger and more vibrant for having lived it.

5 Tips for Leading the Way:

1) Aim for at least 1 hour of non-directed outdoor play each day.  That means time where kids just aimlessly wander about and do what comes naturally.

2) Get out there yourself.  Take whatever you need to hold your interest -  a book, a craft project, a glass of ice water.  Sit out there and they'll stay out, too.

3) Make a few outside play areas for kids.  A little bench is helpful as a workspace for kids mixing mudpies or whittling.  Stumps work well as seats.  A sandbox with digging tools.  An assortment of buckets and watering cans.

4) Set up a tent.  Sometimes, just for fun, set up a tent and encourage your kids to "camp out" all day long, going inside only for bathroom breaks.

5) Once a week, go on a nature walk as a family.  One with no time limit.  Take snacks and drinks and just linger as long as they want to.

Are your kids getting enough time outside these days?

{psst: stay tuned for something new and wonderful coming on Monday.  I can't wait to share with you!}


  1. We pretty much spend the entire day outside in the summer, there is no other place I want to be. Three meals a day are enjoyed on the back deck, if it's raining we eat on the covered front porch. We play, we run, we sit by the campfire, we read, we garden, we just be...Mother Nature has so much to offer I can't help but get out there and enjoy some of it, of course with my little man in tow :)

    1. Sounds like you've got it all figured out, Kim!! I wish our back deck was more user friendly...I need to get a picnic table for the backyard so we can eat out there all the time, too!

  2. Well... I sure try. Having 2 boys I want and NEED them to play outside, for everyone's sanity! However, despite my want.. the 100+ degree heat here has made it nearly impossible! We have learned to go out of a morning and evening when it's only 98:)

    1. Yes, it is hot here as well! (see my most recent post). That definitely makes it more of a challenge for sure. I'm thankful the shade we do have!

  3. Thanks for the inspiration; nature is so healing.


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