The Lost Art of Outside Play

It rained all day today and it’s 5 pm, which means I have three hungry and wiggly children.  Luckily we live in California and a little rain means 60 degrees, low cloud coverage, supple soil, puddles, and a backyard ready for my kids to explore.  I prop the kitchen door open which leads to our backyard and I throw supper together while my 7, 4, and almost 2-year-old find ways to entertain each other outside.  I am always amazed at what I find them doing.  I’d like to say my children are professional mess makers, engineers, performers, lawyers, teachers, and visionaries.  Our backyard becomes a place where they have choices to let their bodies move and imagine.

The backyard bustle of my children refreshes that nostalgia part of my brain.  I start thinking back to hilarious moments as a child when my mother would lock us out of the house on rainy days (usually a result of us arguing) and sit next to the window of her bedroom on the second story while reading a book-watching us of course.

I also find my mind wandering to memories of riding bikes in our cul-de-sac, playing in the backyard with my siblings, or walking down the street to play with other neighborhood kids.  These childhood moments of mine are imprinted in my brain and makes me wonder “where are all the kids for my kids to play with?”  My parents rarely hesitated to send us outside to play.  The moment I returned from walking home from school I would gobble up a snack and whiz through my homework so I could join the neighborhood kids outside.  The sad reality is that my children do not have these same memories or life skills associated with outdoor play.   The simple act of walking to school and scheduling playdates with my friends taught me time management (don’t walk too slow, or else we’ll be late), conflict resolution, self-responsibility, and safety rules of a pedestrian.

I can’t help but desire those same memories for my own children yet the reality of that makes me cringe.   The amount of cars that populate our streets as they busily commute to their workplaces or the increase in child trafficking makes my mommy heart realize that I have to strategically go about raising my children differently.  But how do I instill in them those same responsibilities that I had?  How can my children safely go outside to play somewhat unattended?  Will I ever let my children ride their bike down the street to the store or to school?  Is that even a possibility in today’s world?  And lastly, where are all the children?  So here are a few thoughts about these questions.

  1. Technology is robbing our children of the childhood we had.  Just like we chose whether or not a cat is going to be an indoor or outdoor cat, as parents we do the same thing with our kids.  Putting boundaries on any type of technology allows us as parents to guide our children to make other activity choices.  Don’t hesitate to kick em outside, lock the door, and figure out how to entertain themselves outside.  We want outdoor CATS, I mean children 🙂

“According to research, children ages 2 to 5 spend close to 25 hours of TV time each week. In fact, watching television is the predominant sedentary behavior in children, second only to sleeping. The advent of computers and video games has also contributed to the decline in activity. A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation determined that children ages 8 to 18 are spending more than seven and a half hours a day with electronic devices, the same numbers of hours some people spend at full-time jobs.”

  1. Parents are tired and let me tell you, I AM TIRED!  Most of the time when technology is used in our home it is because mama had a long day and it sounds kind of like “this is the song that never endddddsssss.”  Can you relate?  When we are tapped out as parents we give into this lie that says, “oh just give them the ipad for twenty minutes while I make supper.”  But here’s the problem…twenty minutes is never twenty minutes.  I have this same talk with myself as I scroll through Instagram, “ok Rae, just five more minutes and then you really need to get the dishes done and read stories to the kids before bedtime.”   Then it’s never just five more minutes, technology wins, and I’m grumbling about the next task at hand.  Let’s face it, using technology robs us of being present in the moment and being joyful of what’s next.
  2. Kids know that parents are tired and they are going to leverage that, let me tell you!  Our kids recognize that mom and dad are being pulled in a million different directions.  Technology is a tool to occupy our children so we can get what we need to do.  But what seems to be a good thing is really robbing our children of playing outside, problem solving with their siblings or friends, and preventing them from being able to entertain themselves.  Don’t let your children convince you that technology is the answer to getting your never ending to-do list checked off.
  3. Neighborhoods just aren’t as safe as they used to be.  Sadly, my children will never walk or ride their bike to school.  We live too far away.  But, even if we did live somewhat close, I’ve experienced cars almost hitting me and my family as we have walked across Ygnacio through the crosswalk.  Our street is flooded with drivers that are more fixated on zooming to their next destination.  There is no way I would ever let my children walk down our street by themselves.  The best possible options for our children to have a childhood like we did is to find neighbors, friends, or siblings that you can throw in your backyard and have at it!  Keep them outside.  Feed them outside.  Make them use the bathroom out…inside but then throw them back outside.

Don’t let your kids convince you that they were meant to be an indoor child.  Create in them a household expectation that technology doesn’t manage your household.  Allow the free things outdoors to occupy your child’s free time and see how it changes your family.  Be intentional with the time you have with your children in the car, at home, on the weekends, and in the stressful moments when nothing seems to give.

I leave you with one last thing (or we can call it an “optional homework assignment.”  This spring break join me in a no technology challenge for five days starting Monday, April 2nd through April 6th and try to fill your days with free outdoor activities.  Grab your kids, watch the video below together, and be sure to document your experience with pictures so we can share together over Instagram when we return from the break. I cannot express the joy I have of teaching your children and better yet, parenting alongside of the NorthCreek Academy community.

written by Mrs. McMannis, PE Teacher at NorthCreek Academy



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