We are learning that it is important for children to spend time outdoors without a planned agenda. Children who regularly spend unstructured time outdoors are more likely to: • Become fitter and leaner. • Develop stronger immune systems. • Experience fewer symptoms of ADD and ADHD. • Play more creatively and have more active imaginations. • Learn how to handle challenges and solve problems. • Experience how things grow, mature, and die. • Develop a sense of wonder and research. • Apply science and math principles to real world situations. • Have greater respect for themselves, for others, and for the environment.
Encourage Your Child's Outdoor Play From your child's infancy on, plan time every day for unstructured outside play. Keep it simple and fun. Start in your backyard and then move to your neighborhood and beyond. Encourage your child to explore with all the senses: hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. After your child is successful with simpler activities, add new and more complex challenges.
Explore in your back yard: • Look for bugs, birds, trees, and wildflowers. • Plant easy-to-grow vegetables and flowers in a small garden or wooden planter box. Experience seed planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting. • Hang a bird feeder. Get a bird guide and record which birds visit the feeder. • Start a collection of stones, shells, leaves, or bugs. • Mark off a small square of ground. Have your child draw or write about what is in the square. Periodically have your child record what is new or different.
Investigate your neighborhood: • Help your child pack an explorer's kit. Include items such as a magnifying glass, binoculars, plastic bags and containers for collecting, field guides, notebook and pencil, camera, water bottle, snack, sunscreen, bug repellent, band-aids, blanket/tarp for sitting on the ground or building forts, and a cell phone. • Go for a walk. Visit the park. Allow time to run and explore. • Play by the creek. Go sledding. Build sand castles. • Shop at a farmers' market. • Visit a nature center. • Visit local farms and orchards.
Bring nature inside your home • Get nature guides. Learn to identify trees, leaves, birds, wild flowers, and shells. • Sing songs and choose stories for your child that feature plants and animals. • Help your child see how food goes from the garden to the table.
Volunteer • Support more natural settings such as grass and rocks at your continued on page 8 ‰‰‰ OUTDOOR TIME from page 7
local playground. • Work with groups that beautify neighborhoods and protect natural settings. • Join hiking, birding, or gardening clubs. • Help your child care provider create naturalistic outdoor envi- ronments. Encourage your provider to allow unstructured out door play time.
Keep Your Child Safe Outdoors There are several things you can do to keep your child safe outdoors.
Dress suitably. • In warm weather, clothing should be lightcolored, lightweight, and absorbent. • In cold weather, clothing should be layered and dry. Check fingers, toes, and ears for normal color and warmth at least every 15 minutes. • Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants tucked into socks for visits to the woods. • Wear boots for playing in water/creeks.
Protect your child and yourself from the sun • Play in the shade. • Wear hats and protective clothing when playing outdoors between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM. • Use sunscreen with UVB-ray and UVAray protection of SPF- 15 or higher. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure to the sun and every two hours while in the sun. Talk to your doctor before using sunscreen on an infant less than 6 months old. • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Stay inside during unhealthy weather • Check with your local weather station about air quality index levels. • Play indoors if the wind chill is at or below 15 degrees F or the heat index is at or above 90 degrees F.
Protect your child from strangers • Teach your child to always go out with a buddy. • Have your child check in with you regularly in person or by cell phone. • Practice the "what if" game. "What would you do if someone was following you?... if you were lost?... if someone offered you candy?" • Tell your child about "safe homes" to go to if something does- n't feel right.
Heidi Woodard is a resident of Jamestown, NY. She graduated from Jamestown Community College with honors, and earned an Associates degree in Social Sciences. She also graduated from SUNY Fredonia with highest honors earning a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work. She is currently employed with the Chautauqua Child Care Council a service of Chautauqua Opportunities, Inc.