I spent much of my childhood roaming local bushland, building cubbies and riding my bike as far as my legs would take me. That’s me (far right), my sister and some neighbours, covered in mud after playing for hours unsupervised in our local creek.
I’m guessing your childhood was similar? Climbing trees and spending the whole day outdoors exploring nature was a common experience only one or two generations ago.
Today, children are more likely to be indoors, busy with structured activities, or confined to the safety of their backyard. I can’t imagine my daughter ever being able to roam our neighbourhood like I did mine.
Sadly this lack of unstructured outdoor play comes at a cost.
“A growing body of scientific evidence identifies strong correlations between experience in the natural world and children’s ability to learn, along with their physical and emotional health. Stress levels, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, cognitive functioning—and more—are positively affected by time spent in nature.”
One of my new year’s resolutions is to facilitate unstructured outdoor play for my daughter.
We already spend a lot of time outdoors exploring nature, but little of that time is unstructured. Now that my daughter is little older (she’s almost four) I want her to have time to explore nature herself, without me bossing her around and following her every move.
I’ve identified four tools to help me keep this resolution:
- Camping (especially with other children),
- A daily Green Hour,
- Going screen free, and
- Providing a backyard natural playground.
Camping provides an opportunity to run wild.
The only time I’ve seen my daughter truly run wild is when camping.
On our most recent camping trip, I loved watching her run wild with the other kids. They explored, created, and imagined. I want her to experience this joy more often.
A Daily Green Hour
I found the book The Green Hour by Todd Christopher literally life changing. The book suggests that the nature deficit disorder that many children experience today can be alleviated simply by reclaiming a ‘green hour’ a day for play and discovery in the natural world.
‘A green hour is simply a time for families to unplug, unwind, and recharge as they reconnect to the natural world – and to each other’.
– Todd Christopher
Brilliant I thought. But I literally couldn’t find an hour each day. Our days were already full. I decided there was obviously something wrong with our lifestyle if I couldn’t find a single hour (out of 24!) to spend with my daughter outside. So I decreased my work hours and arranged to work three days over four. I now walk out of the office at 3pm and 3.30 – 4.30pm is our daily green hour. Just the two of us exploring nature in our backyard, in a local park, or sometimes we simply walk around the block.
Going screen free
One of the many benefits of decreasing television time is it frees up time for play. To be honest, my daughter would rather sit in front of the TV than play in our backyard. But if the TV is off limits she will happily play, imagine, explore and create for hours on end.
Backyard Natural Playground
To encourage our daughter to play in our backyard we’re creating a natural playground.
How about you? Do you believe your children have enough unstructured outdoor play time? I’d love to hear any hints you may have for increasing such time.