It’s spring! Snow is melting. Sunshine is lasting longer. Now’s your chance: take your child outdoors! It’s good for him–and for you–in amazing ways. Look at these three big benefits.
Build a healthier body.
Outdoors, a child can:
- build stronger bones and immunity. Sunshine actually helps your child produce more Vitamin D, which helps him both absorb calcium for his bones and strengthen his resistance to disease. “Because of lifestyle changes and sunscreen usage, the majority of the population shows signs of deficiency as determined by measured vitamin D levels in blood,” says Carol Wagner, M.D., FAAP, professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina. All it takes to improve vitamin D levels is a few minutes of playing outdoors before putting on sunscreen. Then slather it on and keep playing!
- protect his distance vision. Playing outside for 2-3 hours a day can keep your child from developing myopia (nearsightedness), according to recent research. So put down the electronics, leave the TV behind, and go watch for birds in the trees, see how much water is pouring over Redwood Falls, or chase a ball around the playground.
- tune up his inner regulator. Sunshine stimulates the pineal gland, which regulates his sleep/wake cycle (“circadian rhythm”) and helps put him in a good mood. Like a tune-up for your child, stepping into the sun helps him feel more internally stable, healthy, and happy.
- burn more calories. You’ll help your child avoid childhood obesity and diabetes by encouraging active, physical play. Even a baby being pushed in a swing gets good exercise.
The outdoors offer freedom to:
- be noisier and messier. Outdoors, it’s okay to squeal while he swings, shout as he plays, and squish mud between his fingers. No one is insisting, “Use your inside voice” or “Don’t get that on the sofa!” He’ll have a whole different kind of freedom to explore and have fun while he’s outdoors.
- let stress go. Even if your child isn’t old enough to run barefoot through the grass or climb a slide, there is evidence that just seeing nature (“green spaces”) can soothe away stress. As an added bonus, the great outdoors is proving to reduce symptoms of ADHD which plagues many children today.
- practice large movement skills. Kids can move in bigger ways outdoors. They can run, jump, leap, and throw balls. It’s hard to learn to play soccer or baseball indoors, isn’t it? Even an infant, free to stretch out on a blanket on the grass, or a barefoot toddler able to hold your hand and kick at the water along the river bank will enjoy stretching his body into all the freedom of the outdoors.
Expand his world.
Outdoor activities open doors to:
- appreciating beauty. Nature is always changing: sunlight is flickering through leaves, clouds are scudding across the sky, water is rippling and racing, animals are scampering, birds are chirping, seasons are departing and arriving… There’s always something new. Help him drink in the amazing beauty all around him; to close his eyes and listen to all the sounds; to enjoy the feel of leaves, rocks, water, grass, wind; to catch the scents of rain, flowers, and damp earth. Something stirs deep in our souls when we spend time admiring creation.
- learning to get along. Children love to invent games and play with others. When they do this in the great outdoors, they learn about limits—natural ones, like how far they can run or climb, and social ones, like why there are rules and how their behavior affects others.
Are you convinced to head out into the sunshine?
Try some of these ideas—
- Take a nature walk. Talk about what you see, hear, smell, or touch. Grow his curiosity—and yours—about this amazing world in which we live.
- Make it a scavenger hunt. For an older child, check out this list. For a younger child, make up your own favorite list: “Find something smooth. Find something shiny. Find something wet … soft… loud… purple…”
- Play a matching game. “Here’s a pine cone. Now you find one. Here’s a feather. Now you find one.” and so forth.
- Plant a garden. Connect with the Redwood Falls area Apple Gourd Project or put some soil in a good-sized, inexpensive pot and plant a few seeds that you can care for and watch grow together.
- Go to the playground. Find your favorite parks in Redwood Falls and visit them frequently. And bring friends along to multiply your fun!
Inspire other parents to take to the outdoors for fun!
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