Climbing over logs and up trees, inventing an outdoor game with friends, exploring the bush, skimming stones and jumping in muddy puddles is an important part of growing up. Although it may sound like just fun and games, there are many advantages of instilling a love of the outdoors and an active lifestyle from a young age.
Children are not just keeping fit by walking, running and jumping but they are gaining hand strength and coordination, as well as testing boundaries, learning to assess risks, negotiating with their peers and understating cause and effect. As technology plays a larger role in our world, children are spending less time outdoors, so it is important we provide ways for them to interact with nature.
It may be as simple as having a picnic in the bush, meeting friends for a play in a park or near a stream, letting them build a rock wall or float leaves and sticks in the water. Simple activities such as building shelters out of sticks and creating cubbies or bases are perfect for children to work together and have fun in the process.
It is important to supervise activities, particularly around water and while kids are learning by taking age-appropriate risks, they also need to be kept safe. We ensure our boys are aware of dangers such as running near fires, jumping into water that has not been checked or climbing tress that might have sharp or hard objects underneath.
As children grow older, they like to be more independent and perhaps explore a little further afield. When we are outdoors, we bring a set of UHF radios so if the kids go exploring, I am able to keep in touch with them. Radios are a great way for the kids to have freedom but I know where they are or I can call them back if it’s dinnertime and if there is a problem or questions, it is easy to get in contact with each other. If there is an extra radio for them to talk to their siblings or friends, then it makes it even more fun.
My biggest worry is not the cut on the knee or perhaps the broken arm, but it is when they start driving cars and going out with their mates and making that one bad decision. I am hoping by giving our children independence to work out risk analysis now, that when they have true freedom, they will make sensible choices.
The health benefits of getting outdoors is beneficial for kids but also for parents to take some time out from our busy lives and interact with our kids and spend quality time together. It can be anything from a morning activity to a few days camping. If you are stuck for ideas on what to do, NaturePlay WA have put together a great list of “51 Things to do Before You’re 12”.