Outside play is a healthy, fun and important part of growing up. As children age, they will be drawn to outdoor playgrounds — both formal and informal — through school and with friends, so it’s crucial for them to learn the rules of safe play. By giving examples at home, children can enjoy the outdoors while parents relax a little, worrying less about injuries.
Here are some tips to enjoy safe outdoor play in your backyard and beyond.
Exploring the outdoors
Nature can be an open classroom for kids. As seasons change, miracles of life unfold and science lessons play out before their curious eyes. KidsHealth notes small children can especially benefit from outdoor play. Have little ones collect leaves, bark and flowers, and have a show and tell session for their natural treasures. Make nature play extra special by turning the moment into a picnic lunch or snack. Even with smaller children, supervise them but step back a bit. Allow them the freedom to explore without holding your hand — it will help them develop courage and independence that can be crucial in older ages.
Give older kids more responsibility and freedom. Teach tweens outdoorsmanship, conservation and respect for nature; they may even benefit from a backpacking camp. Children are less likely to litter or waste resources when they get to know nature.
Outdoors play encourages tactile learning
Unlike learning from a book or computer, Miracle explains that outdoor play is experiential. Some children thrive in a kinesthetic learning environment where concepts are taught through doing rather than listening. A child may be bored by a video on ladybugs but completely enthralled when one lands on their fingernail. Even those who enjoy book learning can appreciate a change of pace and the opportunity to get their hands dirty while learning. Outdoor learning is play and vice versa.
While out in the woods and trails, however, you should be mindful of potential hazards. Toxic plants such as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are present in many areas of the country. Before taking children out into semi-wild areas, learn the basics of identifying these plants. You might even add a plant identification app to your phone like PictureThis so you can spotcheck plants in the moment.
You don’t have to stray far to learn from nature
Most of us do not have to go far to enjoy nature. If we look at our backyards, diverse plant, insect and animal life pervades. For those with backyards, playsets and swing sets combine playtime with outdoor time, even if it’s just beyond the backdoor. Sand boxes, water tables, soccer nets and child-friendly gardening tools can open up whole new worlds. But still, safety needs to be a priority.
Backyard safety begins with teaching your children boundaries and rules. Make a safety plan with set rules, even if it’s just a small list that you place on the back door. A young child should know to not leave the yard without permission, for example, as there’s always a chance you’ll be called away for a moment. As children get older, these rules of course can evolve, but they also will form the basis for alert play.
To give your backyard an added dose of protection, consider investing in a fence if you don’t already have one. This ensures your children have room to roam without the dangers of leaving the perimeter. A fence is a big investment, so be prepared to fork over some money — the average fence runs around $4,500, but prices fluctuate based on materials, location, and the amount of labor involved. You can find a worthy fence company near you through websites like Angi, compare ratings and reviews, and get all arrangements in writing. Note that some may even have seasonal specials that can help you save a few bucks.
Outdoor play is an important part of growing up. It allows kids to develop innate safety skills and connect with nature. They can explore and exercise surrounded by fresh air in ways that cannot be replicated in a classroom, so look for ways to accommodate your child with safe opportunities for outdoor play.
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