04 May 2010

Great Outdoors

Our kids spend more time indoors than we used to, right? Don't know about you, but when I was seven, I used to walk a kilometre up to the shops with my 5-year-old sister, and catch a bus to school three suburbs away all by myself. I can't imagine letting my seven-year-old do that these days, could you?

We never had Playstation, or DVD's or Sky TV (they weren't invented yet). In fact for a while we didn't have any TV at all! We spent our time after school playing outside, climbing the guava tree, swinging on the front fence, building huts under the house and spaceships in the garage. I remember making a snail house for my baby sister out of cabbage leaves... we realised what a dumb idea that was when we spotted her with snail slime dripping off her chin, and snail shell clinging to her lips. Yech.

But my point is that we played outside a lot. We played unsupervised. We used our imaginations to invent elaborate games. The stories we dreamed up! Like the one where we landed in our spaceship on an alien planet; and we had to wear jam jar lids on our heads so we could breathe the toxic air. When my sister's lid fell off she dropped to the ground clutching her throat; such a panic to drag her back to the spaceship...

I was naturally an indoors girl, a bit of a nerd, but mum would still chase us all outside saying, "Go out and play!" So we did. One house we lived in had a reserve across the road which we explored with the neighbourhood kids. There was long grass and a huge old tyre swing - fantastic.

We never had fancy plastic toys, but we sure did have fun. I remember turning the path around our house into a road. Little sister manned the "petrol pump" (the garden hose). Poor kid. We rode around on our trikes and she waited patiently for us to decide we needed some gas. Bless!

We didn't go to endless after-school activities either. We came home, did our homework then ran outside and played til it was dark.

When I was 15 we moved to the country. My next-eldest sister got the younger kids playing Army Cadets in the cow paddock. It was full of thistles and long grass and... cow patties. When she (The Sergeant) yelled, "Drop" they had to drop, wherever they were, whatever they landed on. By the end of the game they were scratched and filthy - but they loved it! Across the road was a patch of native bush; we spent hours laying tracks and even building a little bridge over the creek. Sigh. We didn't know how lucky we were.

How am I doing with my kids? Are they indoor couch-potatoes glued to the screen, or outdoor adventurers and game-players?

Um, a little of both, really.

I don't want us endlessly rushing from one activity to another, so the rule is one activity each. Dash has his football training and Miss Fab did Pippins but wants to switch to gymnastics (I'm yet to enrol her - shame). I really want them to have the space and time to play games and use their imaginations.

But some days I'm just so tired (and so are they) at the end of the school day; we have afternoon tea together and then the TV goes on...

Sometimes to get them active outdoors, they have to be shown. Which means I need to get outside with them and lead the way.

We had a great afternoon last week where I managed to do just that. I got them to write down a bunch of things we could do around the neighboorhood or in the backyard; we cut them up into strips, popped them in a jar and took turns drawing out an activity.

They came up with: riding bikes around the streets, playing ball tag, hide'n'seek, soccer (surprise surprise),  and a scavenger hunt.

First to be drawn and played was Hide'n'Seek (yes, me too)... then they drew out Ball Tag, which was great fun... and then Scavenger Hunt.
"Ohhhh!" complained Dash. He wanted soccer, and tried to put the Scavenger Hunt one back... But I had other ideas.

I wrote a list of things they had to find in our backyard, collect in a box and tick off:
~a red leaf
~a bug
~a worm
~a flower
~something shaped like a heart
~a stick shaped like a 'y'
~something to eat
They had to find everything on the list, working together, rather than competing in a race (we have enough of that as it is). You should have seen Miss Fab. They looked under some bricks for bugs, and she spotted a millipede and fearlessly picked it up... followed by a bunch of wriggly worms. That girl is totally unafraid of creepy crawlies! Even Scrag joined in, throwing clumps of grass and leaves into the box.

We had so much fun I didn't have a chance to stop and take photos. Best of all, when I went off to cook dinner, I heard Dash say to his sister (who he usually ignores): "Hey want to play soccer? Scrag can be on your team...!"

As I cooked in peace the sound of happy laughter rang out. Bliss.

My lovely friend Meg sent me this fantastic link which got me really thinking about this whole outdoor play thing, and I just had to share it with you. It's full of ideas and also some very thought-provoking stuff on the importance of outdoor free play. Have a read, you'll be glad you did.

Green Hearts Inc. Parents Guide to Outdoor Play

FOLLOW ME ON Facebook // Twitter // Instagram // Bloglovin //


alicia said...

This was a great post. Yes, times are different. I think it's good though to encourage children to still get out there and have free play to encourage imagination and creativity.

We only let our children have one physical type activity/season. But we do let them do a musical instrument too if they want. The problem with today vs past is that it is so much more comptetitive to get into colleges these days. Extra curricular activities set you apart. Not so much the case in my day and thank goodness for my mother of 6 children.

The list in a jar is a great idea for summer days. We actually banned the B word last summer. You know, BORED. We charged them like a quarter for every time we heard it. Maybe the jar could be used when things get a little humdrum.

Thanks for the great ideas. You're doing agreat job, mom.

PaisleyJade said...

Excellent post - we've been kicking the kids outdoors each afternoon too as I am sooo sick of the tv being on (best saved for a rainy day).

Widge said...

um. so we're thinking of buying our kids a Wii. (you know the ones with PHYSICAL games). Do you think that counts?

Angela said...

This post is like a song to my heart!

Karen, author of "My Funny Dad, Harry" said...

Looks like your kids are having a blast! It's true that kids don't seem to play outside as much as we used to, but then no wonder with all the technology we have now that we didn't have then. I actually have to make a conscious effort to get outside, away from the computer.

Stopping by From SITS.

Natasha in Oz said...

I totally agree with you. I was like you and used to ride my bike everywhere, walk the streets with my friends and play in my backyard. I try to get my kids outside but like you I am a bit scared to let them go Free-Range. Maybe I need to relax a little...

I will go check out that site too-thanks!

Best wishes,

AndreaLeigh said...

i was always an indoor girl - i loved to read and spent hours doing so. my husband was an outdoors boy - he never played with toys, just went outside.

stopping by from sits to say hello!

KNB said...

Oh gosh--yes, I remember being herded outside by my mom every afternoon home from school, and playing inside giant rhododendron bushes, and at the age of 7 biking across town to friends' houses, and in winter, tunneling through snow and drizzling Hershey's syrup across the snow and spooning it up.

My kids? We live on a very busy road so no unsupervised outdoor play--and when I am out with them, I'm like some commandant keeping them away from the edge of the driveway.

And they do love their tv, and so do I on certain afternoons when they come home from school all cranky and wound up and all they want to do is crash for an hour on the couch.

That's why we're looking for a farm in the country--places for the imagination to (literally) roam.

Great pictures!

Dalia (Generation X Mom) said...

So true. Kids need to learn how to occupy themselves, use their imagination, and play independently. It is not just the problem of kids being glued to their tv's, but the kids needing the help of someone else to 'tell' them how to play. Kids need to learn how to do this themselves or what will they do when they don't have mom or whomever around. You reminded me of all the games we used to play outside as kids. I distinctly remember making our empty wooded lot next door into a haunted house and taking kids one by one through the haunted house. I also remember playing Charlies Angels. What fun!

Post a Comment