I think it’s really important for children to spend a lot of time outside playing, especially once they start school and they’re inside for most of the day. While I certainly don’t judge parents who let their kids have unlimited screen time, we try to limit tv and iPad time to no more than an hour a day and I encourage both kids to get out and play in the yard as much as possible.
Not only is it good for them to run around and burn off some energy (which makes for easier bedtimes!) but I also think it’s important for children to develop a real connection with nature. We’re so cut off from the natural world these days and I think we have a lot to learn from it.
One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways of tempting the kids outside is by involving them in a small gardening project. I find gardening to be a really relaxing hobby and getting the kids to help me out gives them a real sense of accomplishment, as well as giving us some great one-on-one bonding time.
Even the smallest kids can help dig holes, plant seedlings and of course water plants. Every child I’ve come across has loved using a watering can and my two have their own child-size one each. You can also buy smaller versions of a trowel, fork and spade for your kids to use and these are also great fun in the sandbox.
The BBC have a great website on gardening with children and I get a lot of good ideas from there. One thing to keep in mind with young children is that they can quickly lose interest and become frustrated when waiting for plants to grow, so if you’re planting bulbs or something that takes a long time to show results, it’s best to follow it up with an activity that offers an immediate reward like digging for worms.
Working in the garden is great exercise for them and me and I try to make sure we get the most out of it by coming up with activities that include lots of movement. In the summer, getting the water hose out provides lots of fun and waters the garden at the same time. I sure get a great workout from trying to avoid getting wet!
Of course not every day is a good day to be outside and when it’s raining or cold, we sometimes do something fun like sprouting beans or growing grass in an egg shell and then giving it a ‘haircut’. We grew an avocado tree seedling recently by supporting an avocado stone in a glass of water with toothpicks and the kids were quite amazed with the way the roots and shoot “hatched” from the stone. We’ve now put it in a pot and when it’s big enough we’ll plant it out in the yard. I love that they’ll be able to come back and visit when they’re grown and see the tree they planted from seed as children!